Category Archives: Science!
Things are already getting worse climate-wise. We’ve had a string of hottest years ever. The average global temperature is rising. Polar ice and mountain glaciers are waning. Tundra is melting, and releasing more greenhouse gases. The complex weather systems of Earth are becoming chaotic and less predictable–as climate change theory predicts (a theory is a evidence-supported premise and proposed set of conditions and results to be tested and changed according to new results, not a wild-assed guess as the “climate change is a Chinese hoax” crowd would have it).
Maybe the world will find the will to take the drastic action needed to keep things from getting much worse, or out of control forever leading to a greenhouse Earth that looks like a second Venus.
And maybe it won’t and Earth is already dead–we just don’t know it.
The next 500 years will tell the tale.
But, if the option is to flee, settling the Solar System WILL NOT save the bulk of humanity, though it may save the species.
Barring totally amazing technological developments like Blish’s “spindizzy” in his Cities in Flight series that can lift whole cities off the planet, there’s not a way to evacuate billions of people.
More likely is a The Expanse-type world in which there are settlements all across the Solar System, but they’re limited in carrying capacity and reproducing on their own. There won’t be a hell of a lot of room for Earthers.
Most of them, if things go badly wrong, will die desperate deaths.
Agitate for climate action if you want to avert that future.
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(This post does not appear on my Patreon page because I can’t effectively post tweet links there. But I’ll take this opportunity to mention that I could really use your support for reasons I lay out in the About section which is the first thing you see there, and I’m super grateful for any support I receive. In fact, a comment here or on Twitter would be cool, too.)
This tweet was a prequel, if you will. If we’re at all active online, our privacy is undermined far more than most of us are comfortable with, even Millennials. Maybe even post-Millenials.
But eventually, the complex of tracking browsing habits and posts and images and our online friends and where we shop online and what we buy and what we share with our apps will tell.
There will come a generation that is comfortable with all this. That accepts it as casually as we accept the automobile and television.
This tweet inspired a thread about one way privacy will be compromised more than many of us dream: we will monitor our own bodies more closely than ever before, and that information will be shared with “our advertising partners” as they often put it.
Here’s the thread:
Sorry about the repetition at the end, but the links post both a tweet and the tweet it was in response to, and there’s not an option to suppress it. Which would be a very specific feature, so I kind of understand why it’s not there.
Anyway, this is a privacy-destroying vision that I think it very likely in the future. And it will probably be more than just capsules recording your insides. Your clothing and jewelry will also have options to record your health information.
If it becomes popular enough, it may become difficult to find clothing and jewelry that don’t monitor your health and report it to an app or manufacturer or both. Have you ever tried to find a cellphone without a camera? I live in a military town and it’s a requirement for some secure areas that your phone has no camera, and I’ve heard lots of complaining about how hard they are to find.
But, you say, you can just turn the monitoring off.
Well, that speaks to my point.
Eventually, a generation will come who just doesn’t care and they’ll think anyone who gives much thought to online privacy is weird.
Maybe weird enough to diagnose with a mental illness.
The future will be very strange to us. But isn’t that the way of the world? Change is.
NASA recently reported that the global dust storm on Mars, which has lasted a month, is starting to die down but may take weeks or months to completely disperse.
Imagine being a resident in a Martian settlement through that.
Sure, the settlement will almost certainly be underground, as long-term human residents will need shelter from the radiation that penetrates the feeble atmosphere and magnetosphere of the Red Planet.
But surely there will be periscopes, surface observation domes, and surface excursions.
Not during a dust storm.
Solar power will be difficult to come by during one of these storms, too. Sure, it could be generated in orbit and beamed down. But what will the dust do to the microwave laser that would do that?
Mars will need nuclear or fusion power to weather dust storms.
And I wonder, will being stuck under a skyful of dust bring on cabin fever in people already confined to tunnels and domes?
Something to think about.
…unless you’re here on the 7th of this month (June 2018 if you’re here from the future) in which case it’s happening / it happened this morning, or after the 7th it already happened.
It’s pretty routine surgery, so the chances of things going hinky are low.
This could be the end of about a quarter century of limping and inconvenience, about a decade and a half of significant chronic pain, and six or seven years of constant major chronic pain.
Fingers crossed, but not legs since they tell me that can dislocate a new metal hip if done before everything is healed sufficiently.
Peace, and I hope to be posting here as a cyborg a few days after the 7th.
Not today. Probably not this century. In the next, I’d be shocked if it didn’t start happening. Outdoor farms in their sprawling plant-filled glory will one day be extinct in most “developed” countries and will be a marker of terrible, desperate poverty.
There are already experiments in urban and/or indoor farming. Experiments and practical endeavors, in fact. With tall racks of trays and hydroponic and similar setups, optimized artificial lighting and harvesting, and total climate control (oh, this is the next paragraph right here, just you wait and see) an indoor farm can produce a LOT more food in the same volume of old-fashioned dirt farm.
And there’s another benefit, one that will grow much more valuable as time advances. You see, the climate is changing, and we humans changed it mainly by burning billions of tons of the distilled hundreds-of-millions-of-years-old forests and dinosaurs we call oil, coal, and natural gas. You can’t burn that much carbon-bearing material and not impact the environment you release it into. Deny it if you want, but the facts say it’s changing and we had a lot to do with it.
Climate change changes farming. Extreme weather events become more common because the global flows of air and heat are disrupted and you can’t disrupt a gigantic complex system without introducing chaos. Rainfall patterns and which land is suited for what crop change as wet land becomes arid (and presumably vice-versa as it’s a big globe with more than the USA in it), and temperatures and season lengths change.
So how do you escape chaotic weather that threatens crops? How do you immunize yourself against the shifting of agricultural zones under the whip of a changing global climate?
You move indoors, of course.
One day, our farms will be many, many thousands of enormous warehouse spaces full of light and the smell of growing things while the hot breath of the climate we screwed up howls against the doors.
The article pictured above mentions an asteroid large enough to mimic a nuclear airburst, noticed only a day before a close flyby of Earth.
Right now, in the US and UK at least (likely elsewhere, but I’m not politically knowledgeable enough to point fingers in those directions) it’s fashionable to holler “fake news!” if a fact doesn’t agree with one’s assumptions and/or want-to-believes. Mostly on the political right, though I’ve sadly seen some on the left and even center catching the feelings-over-facts bug.
So. Imagine a rock from space smearing a city in a tense nation. The astronomy community says “hey, look, here’s video proof we saw it a day ago.”
And a few influential hawks shout back, sneering: “fake news! Fake video!”
Millions cheer for war. Saner heads are ignored — after all, didn’t Breitbart and Infowars and Trump (or the parallel orgs & people in another nation) say it wasn’t an asteroid? In fact it was a nuclear attack! And the [whoever is in the doghouse with the struck nation] did it! LET’S GET THEM!
This is one of the more out-there scenarios — more than likely, the “fake news” conspiracy theorist howl will kill us all in simpler ways, or even just lock us into an extra-paranoid authoritarian dystopia.
But the end could begin with a real asteroid mistaken (or misrepresented) for fake.
And then someone did invent the robot, and in the last threeish decades of the 20th century it was the biggest story (if underreported) again. People variously blame outsourcing and trade imbalances and minimum wage and unions and other things for the evaporation of middle-class-paying factory jobs, but the fact of the matter is that most of them have given way to automation.
Automation was a major driver in rising income inequality, in the shrinking of the middle class, in the erosion of inflation-adjusted wages, in the increase in part-time jobs and decrease in full-time employment, in the… you get the idea. The ramifications are much wider than we see. Or want to see. Political discourse is still hung up on trade imbalances (I have a HUGE trade imbalance with the grocery store but you don’t see ME crying about it) and tariffs and outsourcing. All those things matter, but not a tenth as much as jobs being replaced by robots that are more cost-effective, don’t call in sick, don’t make worker’s comp claims, don’t unionize, don’t complain about not making enough to pay the rent, eat, and pay for healthcare at the same time, don’t have bothersome events like weddings and funerals to attend, don’t have heart attacks at work which just shoots productivity for the day right down the damn toilet, and more.
Wow, human workers suck compared to workers.
But actually, there are a lot of jobs robots don’t do well. Robots aren’t very adaptable. Robots suck at human interaction. Robots aren’t creative. They just do a simple job or a few simple jobs quickly and well, over and over and over and over and over.
That’s changing. Much like computers that once took up a whole room to serve only as well as the calculator app on the phone in your pocket does today, robots are getting better at their jobs fast. They’re replacing ever more production jobs. They’re making inroads into white collar jobs. They’re heading toward being way more ubiquitous than anyone but a few technologists, futurists, and science fiction writers thought possible even twenty or thirty years ago.
They’re going to end up in places, ultimately, that they really shouldn’t be. And they’ll get there because they will have become way cheaper than now (think of how relatively cheap your smartphone is compared to the supercomputer of the 1990s, which it can outperform) and way more flexible. Adaptable.
People will be up in arms, of course, when robot nurses become common and drive out nearly all the human nurses. Or maybe not nearly, but actually all. Robots can’t show compassion, people will say. They can’t comfort the sick and dying like empathetic humans can. They can’t give the encouragement of conversation and a pat on the shoulder and the presence of another human being.
Consider, for a moment, the ATM (or, for redundancy enthusiasts, which are apparently nearly everyone, the “ATM machine”). Reaching back to 1993, I found an article in Wired that mentions what people did not like about them when they were becoming common. People didn’t like that they were machinelike. The programmed, stilted greetings and prompts. The lack of human interaction. Sometimes, the lack of security — a human presence other than one potential victim may dissuade some criminals from striking, or at least offer up the comfort of perceived safety, where a machine does not.
But they liked the convenience. Bankers liked that they could reduce teller jobs (though my understanding is they shifted employees to other positions like sales instead of reducing headcount — but that reflects human flexibility. Remember what I said up there about automation becoming more flexible? It will.).
And now the ATM is just an accepted part of life, and hardly anyone complains about them seriously as a thing. People complain about the slowness of individual ATMs just as they complained about the slowness of individual human tellers (and still do). People complain about the fees. But people do not complain about the fact that ATMs are the way we make nearly all of our cash withdrawals and a large number of deposits as well.
Automated nurses will be like that. A couple of decades after they’re introduced, people will stop complaining about them and accept them. It will become social convention that human interaction with patients is the job of family, friends, and whatever volunteers care to look in on those without many of those.
I think that will basically suck, but if the money says robot nurses, we will have robot nurses.
The same story, over the coming decades and perhaps into the 21st (robotic flexibility has a long way to go), will play out among firefighters and police officers and short order cooks and fast food staff and store clerks and warehouse workers and postal carriers and parcel deliverypeople and florists and paralegals and lawyers and EMTs and professional drivers of all stripes and and and…
In a hundred years, I think we’ll be talking about whether or not employment numbers are over five percent, not whether unemployment is over five percent.
It will be a strange world to people like me born in the 1970s. Assuming medical science advances fast enough to keep me alive into the 22nd, which I think is unlikely (DAMMIT).
(This first appeared on my Patreon page ten days ago. Become a patron and regardless of the size of your pledge you will see all of my best and beefiest blog posts at least a week before they appear here!)
Food printing right now is limited to stuff like pasta and candy. Simple stuff with few ingredients.
But imagine a day when it’s quick and simple to print a burger or pizza or steak.
I don’t know that day will come — it’s difficult to imagine the incredible advances it would take to do such a thing.
But if it gets done it seems likely to proceed like computer tech, from bulky and expensive to cheap and ubiquitous in a generation or two.
Maybe by 2218 we’ll see something like that. It would knock the guts out of the restaurant industry. Make famine response easier. Probably make us all even fatter. It might kill the cooking professions, or make them boutique commodities for rich showoffs.
I would totally buy a food printer. I’d print a box of meringues right now.
It’s going to happen sooner or later. The only question is, will throwing rocks at populated areas like Earth or space habitats or settled moons and asteroids be viewed as an over the top measure and approached with extreme reluctance like nuclear weapons have been following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or will our future Solar-system-wide civilization degenerate into an orgy of caveman rock throwing?
Only time will tell.