Category Archives: Science!

I Would Kill For A Maidbot

Jetsons-robot-maid

oh god please don’t sue me she’s just so ICONIC

I do the laundry for a household of five, including a four year old and a six year old who for some reason have to do at least two wardrobe changes daily. Shirts come off (“I got hot playing”) and go in the hamper; an hour later: “I’m cold. I need a shirt.” Or there’s a mud and dirt incident outdoors – which I live with; I’d be worried if they didn’t get dirty at this age. And there’s a fair bit of evidence playing in the dirt is a shot in the arm for growing immune systems, lowering rates of allergy and illness. But still: more laundry. It’s a rare day I don’t do two or three loads.

I’d kill for a maidbot.

Vacuuming. Sweeping. Cleaning surfaces, appliances, furniture, metal, television screens, books. Books attract a lot of dust. I have a few hundred books. Which sucks. Ten or twelve years ago before a series of moves and necessary weedings-out of possessions, I had a few thousand.

I don’t dust them enough. Or do any of the other things in the previous paragraph. I’m kind of a sucky housekeeper.

I’d kill for a maidbot.

I just thought: the maidbot wouldn’t just do the laundry, it would fold it and put it away. And rearrange the drawers when they got disorganized.

I’d kill for a maidbot.

I don’t do the dishes except a few here and there as I cook during the day. My eldest does that – we don’t have a dishwasher appliance. Imagine the time and effort he’d save. I wonder what maidbots would do to dishwasher sales?

I don’t care. I’d kill for a maidbot.

I bet the first ones will be expensive and buggy. But within five or ten years of release they’ll likely be far less buggy and no more expensive than a television – and used ones will be showing up on Craigslist and in thrift stores and pawnshops.

They’ll be one of the most popular Christmas gifts. Everyone will want one.

Wouldn’t you kill for a maidbot?

[When I post the next installment of this short series, there will be a link to the next post here]

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Coming Soon In More Detail: Telepathy Is Already A Thing (Kinda)

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So, yeah. Telepathy is kinda already a thing, sort of. We just haven’t noticed it and it’s really not the province of individual humans, even though it sure is good at reading our individual minds, and getting better at it every passing day.

I’m going to write about this in more detail on my Patreon next week (I’m aiming for Tuesday (Feb 20th)), but here’s the basic premise for you to think about:

A large proportion of the world is online.

A HUGE proportion of the first world is online.

Our buying, browsing, app, and social media habits are recorded, monitored, and analyzed by dozens upon dozens of different companies. Perhaps even our conversations if they’re in range of a smartphone, tablet, or even PC microphone.

This info can be used to build a SCARY accurate picture of who we are, what we think, and what we want.

This info and these analyses are not centralized, limiting their effectiveness and application.

That decentralization is not necessary.

You can’t read minds. But something is reading yours.

Hope you sleep well tonight. Sweet dreams.

Hope to see you Tuesday on Patreon.

Self-driving Exoskeletons…

…seem to be a thing fated to happen. We’re in the midst of getting self-driving cars. We’re about to get a practical exoskeleton. It’s a natural! Who doesn’t want to walk to the store half an hour away while taking a nap or screwing around on your smartphone?

The Possible Futures Of Self-Driving Cars

I’m not sure which way the spread of self-driving car technology is going to go, but I see three basic options.
 
Option one: The Epic Fail.
In this scenario self-driving cars grow in popularity and start becoming common. Some major cities start banning manual-drive cars from major pedestrian malls in their city centers. Everything’s going great!
And then, BAM! A widespread software glitch, virus, or cyberattack strikes a large number of cars. Maybe it’s a given make or model of car, or every car running a certain app or receiving a certain update or patch. Thousands of cars crash, either physically, in the software sense, or both. Thousands of people are hurt in the space of hours, or even minutes. Hundreds of people die. Emergency rooms and ambulance services are overwhelmed. Video of hospitals performing triage in parking lots and stacked body bags hits the news. Victims appear on talk shows and media broadcasts.
There’s a huge anti-self-driving public outcry. Politicians pass laws to restrict the hell out of self-driving car technology. Carmakers pull back on producing them. It takes a century or two for the public to even consider allowing self-driving cars again, and even longer for laws restricting them to be withdrawn — if they ever are.
 
Option Two: City Drivers.
Self-driving cars become a little like hunting: mostly a rural thing, and a point of pride for many rural folks to distinguish themselves from “soft” urban types. Small towns and unincorporated areas may allow self-driving vehicles, but social pressure causes many people living in these areas to avoid them. The demand this preserves for manual-drive cars keeps carmakers supplying them and prevents the areas that favor them from passing laws restricting them.
At the same time, larger towns and cities do restrict manual-drive cars, barring them from downtown areas at least. Larger cities ban manual driving within city limits.
This division creates additional barriers and friction between rural and urban areas — it becomes more difficult for someone living and driving in one to visit the other — and as urban areas continue to grow, rural unrest and dissatisfaction with government and city people grows. Potentially, this may fuel separatism and worse political division of Americans than currently exists, and fuel similar social conflict in other nations as well.
 
Option three: Self-Driving Cars Take Over
In this scenario, self-driving car technology continues to develop quickly and by the time people born in the 2010s grow up self-driving cars dominate the roads. A decade after that, so many areas, including whole counties and even states, outlaw manual driving that even if you could find a manual car to buy there’s be barely anywhere to drive it. Manual-drive cars are only popular in racing sports and on closed tracks and private property as a rich person’s hobby.
The 20 years of the switchover creates a situation in which there are few of the older cars that the poor rely on for transportation available to buy. Self-driving technology replaces the cars of the poor with pay-per-ride apps, which are no more expensive as long as the poor choose to use them seldom and for short distances at non-peak periods. The availability of pay-per-ride self-drivers disrupts public transportation systems with low ridership; many collapse or contract. Some poor and working-class people are forced out of rural areas due to the greater reliance on people owning their own transportation in those areas, leading to an increase in the rural-to-city population shift.
By the time older self-driving cars are available for the poor to buy at low cost, the new social norm is set and few people buy those cars, distrusting the cost of upkeep and relatively large outlay.
It’s a relative good for most, but not for the bottom ten percent of income earners.
 
So. There are the major options as I see them. Got another idea? Let me know in the comments. 🙂
(This post appeared a week earlier on my Patreon page — join me and see most of my work early, plus you can get ebooks, for free, before I release them even if I’m charging for them when they go public, and even signed copies of anything I publish hard copy of at higher patronage levels!)

As A Large Complex System Destabilizes…

A ‘Perfect Storm_ Extreme Winter Weather Bitter Cold and Climate Change Climate Reality

You really want to read this article. The author knows about a billion times more than I do.

…extreme events become more common. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing in the weather, and more every year.

Assuming the world manages to turn our mass CO2 pollution around and stop anthropogenic climate change, I’m going to guess as an interested climate layperson that we’re looking at decades for current temperature and weather trends to turn around, and more decades for the chaos we’re causing to calm.

Buckle up, folks. And buckle up your grandkids and their grandkids. Even in the best case it’s going to be a wild ride for a couple of centuries.

Longer if we screw this up. Maybe forever.

2067: First Major Metro Goes Off National Electric Grid

I’ve taken up tweeting from the future, example above, in addition to my usual political-writing-SciFi-whatevs antics @Tao23.

It keeps me thinking to turn out those tweets on a semi-regular basis. And the tweets can make a great nucleus for future SciFi News Network posts here, AKA my futurist “predictions.” Older posts are formatted to look kind of like actual articles from the future. I’m seeing more posts like this, where I let the Tweetmorrow tweet stand for the future story and then get to speculate and explain like I’m doing now. This is fun.

Predictions in quotes because who knows what monkeywrenches the future could throw into the works? Our pet Trumphole could yet start a nuclear war and derail everything…

Donald J. Trump on Twitter https   t.co P4vAanXvgm.png

Nothing like trying to provoke a nuclear war in a lame attempt to prove how macho you are, s–t for brains.

…but gee, we’d save his personal pet illusion of his machismo so win-win post-apocalyptic Mad Max hellhole, right?

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50 years seems like a reasonable horizon for a major metro going off-grid and relying on locally generated renewables. Solar, wind, biogas, hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal, and more — there are a lot of options for a city to generate its own local power, and for residences and businesses to take themselves off even the local grid. Batteries like Tesla’s PowerPack (and the residential version, PowerWall) make 24/7 power availability practical even with variables like solar, and small local cooperative grids can increase that support — imagine a neighborhood grid with all the batteries and different forms of power generation contributing. Or a college campus grid. Lots of possibilities.

In the lead story of my Closer Than You Think collection, One More For The Road, the protagonist drives into an isolated, long-off-grid town on its own local grid, with nearly every home and business sending up one or more combo wind turbine and solar collector on a long mast, evoking a field of glittering flowers in her imagination. The masts are even retractable to avoid damage in strong winds and storms. They stand tall and slender in light breezes, short and stout in heavy blows, and fold themselves into protective housings during storms, dormant while the town runs on battery power.

Not too bad a vision, eh? Certainly, there will be advantages and disadvantages, ups and downs. A spell of very strange weather might leave residents rationing their power and sending out battery trucks to pick up spare power from the neighbors. But that seems not so much more trouble than the current system that leaves us in the dark if something damages the wires, transformers, or power stations, and releases more and more carbon dioxide into the air to further warp the already wobbly climate.

Eclipse Of The Son

Found this one going through my pics from the solar eclipse. In Norfolk, VA we didn’t get totality, but we got these crescents through the pinholes formed by the leaves of the sweetgum tree in our yard, themselves eclipsed by my agog 4 year old son. 

Eclipse, With Children 


Eclipse viewing with the kiddos. We also had a pair of viewing glasses but the natural pinholes between leaves stole the. show. 

The direct pictures are the product of me putting my cellphone camera in manual settings mode & fiddling around until something weird happened. Not sure why the secondary crescent sun image appeared, but I’m super happy it did. 

We’re in Norfolk, VA so we didn’t see totality. But the sun got down to a skinny crescent and the kids got their minds blown by science and nature. And so did I! 

If The Nukes Start Flying…

Torus_Cutaway_AC75-1086-1_5725-NASA-Ames-Research-Center-publicdomain.jpg

Public domain orbital colony concept, NASA Ames Research Center. Go look at all the images, they’re wonderful.

…a goodly number of us dreamers are going to ruefully reflect that it was entirely possible for humanity to establish off-planet settlements following the Apollo program. Settlements that likely could have been self-sustaining by now because in the alternate reality where humankind put as much effort and resources and brains as possible behind establishing populations outside this fragile egg basket we call Earth, the early ones could have been in orbit and on the moon in the 1980s.

There could have been nearly 40 years to chase the kinks out of the recycling loops and life support and hydroponics. To build solar power plants all over the darn place up there and drag a water-ice comet into Earth orbit if we couldn’t find enough to fling up to orbital colonies from Luna with mass drivers.

40 years to send more and more people up and for people to start being born up there.

40 years to establish a reservoir of human beings and our technological knowledge out of range of Kim Jong-Un and Kim Jong-Trump (brothers of another ego-rage-spiritual mother) and their shoe-on-podium nuclear chest-beating.

Sigh.

Lightsail Probes: Not Just For Seeking Out New Life

So, yesterday on Twitter I got to thinking about laser-launched lightsail nanoprobes:

Currently, the big idea is to launch teeny-tiny lightsail probes at neighboring stars to get a look around — current thought is that technology as it is now could handle boosting some 1 gram probes attached to 20 meter lightsails up to 20% of lightspeed.

(I’ve cued the video to a bit about how teeny the working part of the probe would be — if you’re so inclined the whole video is a long, academic discussion of the whole idea that’s pretty decent if that’s your cup of tea.)

With only a few — but even better with a huge cloud, as I briefly fantasize about elsewhere — we could get a fine look at a stellar neighbor and see if there are any planets there that would be practical targets for a generation ship to settle. Think big, I say. Best to get humanity out of this fragile little egg basket we call Earth. Not just into the rest of the Solar System, but into others if we can manage it.

But nanoprobes, good for peeking at the neighbors, could be great for raw astronomy and investigation of the nature of the universe.

The Quanta link in my lead tweet above is about theories regarding the behavior of dark matter. Imagine how useful for that and other questions we itty-bitty humans have about our gigantic universe it would be to launch a gigantic lens of nanoprobes sailing off in a couple of different directions. To fire them out of the plane of the ecliptic and out of the cloud of particles and matter the Sun drags with it through space. To shoot them toward things we want to observe at 20% of lightspeed and compare the observations with what we see when that light and radiation reaches Earth. To fire them off the other way and let them crawl back in time (effectively) to compare to past observations.

To build expanding lenses light-minutes across in interstellar space, peering deeper and more clearly into the universe than humans have ever managed before.

Take some time to really think about it. It’s a breathtaking opportunity for pure science. And pure science, practical-minded friends, pays off in the long run.