Polluted Dead Stars (Video)

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Investing in a Future We’ll Never See

The news that a rocky planet has been discovered within the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, a star ‘only’ a little over 4 light years away, is pretty exciting. This gets me to thinking yet again on AI, robotic, the brevity of human life, as well the legacy we want to leave for future generations.

There was a time when it was unthinkable to attempt a journey around our globe. The distances and effort involved were just too much. Now, we travel quickly between continents and around the world. 150 years ago it would take weeks or more for word of some major event happening in another country. Now, online, we see protests, natural disasters, and sporting events in real time. Now we face an even greater challenge to travel and communication, as we look out through space and dream of visiting other worlds.

Even in our own solar system it takes months and years to reach the other planets. It took Voyager 2 around 12 years to reach Neptune, and New Horizons made it with better technology (and no side trips) to Pluto in 9.5 years. For some comparison, the Voyager 1 spacecraft is traveling away from the Sun at a rate of 17.3 km/s. If Voyager were to travel to Proxima Centauri, at this rate, it would take over 73,000 years to arrive. One option to speed up this journey is nuclear pulse propulsion, which could push a spacecraft up to 5% the speed of light. Traveling at 5% of 4.33 light years means a journey of 85 years.

This brings me to robotics and AI. The work of Boston Dynamics creating eerily lifelike robots that can respond to their environment, together with the efforts of Uber and others to develop reliable self-driving cars, can be providing us the know-how to engineer autonomous robotic probes. Such probes would be needed in order to carry out their mission at distances measured in light years. If, for example, a probe is sent to Proxima Centauri B, it will need to to function on its own for the most part, as transmissions to and from earth will take 4.22 years each way. While it’s possible that future generations will come up with even faster moving spacecrafts, the communication delay would be impossible to overcome. According to our present understanding of physics, nothing can go faster than the speed of light. The first representatives of Earth in other solar systems will most likely be our robotic probes.

Our lives are very short. Perhaps 60 years of good health, if we are so fortunate, and then usually another 20 in our elder years, facing more health challenges. People in their 20s and above would not likely live the 85 + 4 years necessary to begin seeing footage of Proxima Centauri B. That means I will certainly never see it. That’s simply a fact.

Interstellar space travel will be a test of our willingness to leave analyzing and appreciating the results of our efforts to a later generation. Empathy is a capacity that makes our society function, and provides us with an ethical point of reference, and it will be required in large doses for us to make this work and to branch out further into our galaxy. It means that my great-grandchildren and yours will be recipients of a beautiful gift that we ourselves will never know. Perhaps in so doing we’ll be persuading them, if they need the encouragement, to do likewise for those who will come after them.

Interstellar exploration will be a multi-generational effort which depends on highly advanced AI and robotics. More fundamental still will be our selflessness in investing in research and discovery beyond the horizon of our small, individual lives.

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Putting Things Into Perspective 

One part of the Stoic reflection I do (think of it as a type of meditation) involves thinking of some really terribly thing that could happen in my life, and then take a good look at it. Simplifying a bit, I first zoom in on the event I imagine, going through it step by step and reviewing it in the most granular way possible. Then, I zoom out in space and time, contemplating both deep time and the unfathomable vastness of the universe. This way of reflecting on even the worst that could happen helps put everything into better perspective.

If, perhaps, you like that idea but need a little help getting started, check out the video above. It shows us how really insignificant we, and our problems, really are. The point isn’t to feel miserable about it. Rather, you should feel relieved.


Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (Video)

Way back when I was 19 and 20, in the mid-1990s, living in a Bible college dorm, one of the shows we watched regularly on the only TV available was the 1960s Batman and Robin series. It was so ridiculously fake, we somehow enjoyed it without needing pot. Though, I imagine a little weed would have really helped. In any event, for those nostalgic for simpler superhero times, a direct-to-dvd Batman & Robin movie is coming soon. Key roles will be voiced by Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar. 

It will be released for Digital HD on Oct. 11 and Blu-Ray on Nov. 1. Marijuana and munchies sold separately.

Why Do Brazilians Speak Portuguese And Not Spanish? (Video)

Whenever it comes up that I lived, worked, and started a family in Brazil, I dread the follow up question. More often than not, people say, “Oh, so you speak Spanish.” When I answer “no” and explain that Brazil is a Portuguese-speaking country, the follow up is usually either “But they speak Spanish too, right?”, or else “Sure but Portuguese and Spanish are basically the same, aren’t they?”

Not exactly. Spanish and Portuguese are both Romance languages, descended from Latin, as are French, Italian, and Romanian. Just because they share the same source does not mean they are really mutually intelligible. Spanish is a foreign language in Brazil, and it is offered as such in the schools there as an option alongside English. While Spanish certainly would be easier for a Portuguese speaker to learn, it still must be learned.

Now, I don’t expect all Americans to know that Pakistan’s national language is Urdu, or that Iran’s is Persian (although, seriously, people should know a bit more history and geography), but we’re talking about another nation in the Americas. How hard is it to keep up with that?

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