10 Post-Human Entities Who Could Inherit The Earth

June 27, 2015


Homo sapiens sapiens has had a pretty good run for a species confident enough to name ourselves the “wise, wise guys.” But we are reaching a point when we may sooner or later have to pass the mantle onto something else, maybe even something we create. Here are 10 possibilities.

10  Uplifted Animals

1- animals
The idea of raising animal species to human intelligence is an old one that dates back to H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr Moreau. Cordwainer Smith imagined uplifted animals as an oppressed underclass fighting for their rights, while David Brin’s Uplift series presented a universe where almost all intelligent creatures owed their sapiency to patron species, with humanity exploring the universe with intelligent apes and dolphins at its side.

Some theorists, such as George Dvorsky, argue that we have a moral imperative to raise other species to our level of intelligence once we possess the technological means to do so. Dvorsky points to modern efforts to have great apes be granted the legal right of “personhood,” and he asserts that the natural next step would be to give non-human animals the cognitive faculties for self-determination and participation in a society of sentient creatures. The human monopoly on sentient thought gives us an unfair and unjust advantage over our animal neighbors, and if the means exist to allow non-humans like apes, dolphins, and elephants to achieve the cognitive means of political participation, it is our moral duty to extend it to them.

Others disagree. Alex Knapp believes that the costs in terms of animal life would be too high to justify it. In order to uplift a species, it would be necessary to make changes to the DNA on an embryonic level, leading to inevitable failed attempts before we got it right. Then there is the question of how to ensure that a successfully uplifted embryo would be gestated. Such experimentation would be morally wrong, with the potential for intelligent animals suffering physical abnormalities and early death due to human meddling. Even if successful, human beings would have no way to cope with the social and emotional needs a sapient chimpanzee, bonobo, or parrot would have. In other words, uplifted animals could be left emotionally traumatized due to ham-handed attempts by humans to raise them.

Some also worry that problematic aspects of certain species’ natures, such as chimpanzees’ violence and dolphins’ inclination for rape, would carry on into their intelligent forms. Some argue that intelligent self-awareness is an ecological niche that can only sustainably hold a single species, explaining why the Neanderthals and our other human cousins were wiped out and assimilated. Creating intelligent animals could create evolutionary competition for humanity by potentially traumatized creatures with mental processes and value systems that we may not even be able to comprehend.

9  The Borg

2- borg
Star Trek introduced an assimilationist cyborg race seeking to bring all sentient species of the universe into a single collective intelligence. Most would argue that this would be a bad thing, but not everyone agrees. Travis James Leland argued that the emotionless, sterile picture of the Borg is just Luddite propaganda, and a step toward collective intelligence could just as likely lead to happiness and freedom for individuals within the hive. Indeed, one of the reasons we connect through the Internet and social media is to become closer and more connected as a species, which is surely a step toward a collective.

Integration with technology and interconnection doesn’t reduce individuality; it merely makes it easier to connect and express our individuality in a nascent global collective consciousness. Some argue that the technology to create a “telepathic noosphere” could be created with technology available today. We are already able to send video, audio, and motor control information between the brain and the Internet through electrodes, and the information bandwidth required for a hive mind is theoretically possible as well. The technological infrastructure used for modern telecommunications and wireless Internet could be further developed for neural interfacing, though initially it would be of extremely low fidelity and difficult to use. Some refer to these theoretical hive minds as “borganisms” and advocate their creation for social and political reasons.

There could very well be advantages to a hive mind consciousness, insofar as it would essentially become a superhuman entity capable of achievements beyond the scope of individuals. The ability to coordinate for mass projects would be enhanced, planning for complex goals would be more efficient, and human beings would grow closer to understanding one another.

Of course, there are a number of downsides as well. Along with the existential fear of the loss of individual identity to the mass consciousness, there are threats of viruses and hackers in the system in early stages, not to mention worries over who exactly will control the technology: An emergent hive mind from social media is a different beast than a hive mind of soldiers and secret police developed by the military-industrial complex. Some argue that more developed borganisms would have even more weaknesses, such as a susceptibility to virulent memetic infection (which would require individual units to practice rigorous “mental hygiene”), as well as the potential for group-think and the problem of how to deal with selfishness and social parasitism from individuals within the hive.

8  Genetic Castes

3- castes
Political scientist Francis Fukuyama believes that transhumanism is one of the most dangerous ideas around today. He sees a fundamentally dangerous aspect of attempting to improve on our basic humanness. He calls it “Factor X” and says that it “cannot be reduced to the possession of moral choice, or reason, or language, or sociability, or sentience, or emotions, or consciousness or any other quality that has been put forth as a ground for human dignity. It is all those qualities coming together in a human whole that make up Factor X.”

He believes that the development of genetically modified humans would spell an end to the liberal ideal of political equality of all people. Access to genetic modification technology could lead to the rise of genetic castes and erode our common humanity, as the wealthy would be able to create designer babies with significant advantages over the less genetically fortunate masses. Fukuyama is a conservative, but many on the left have similar fears. The Center for Genetics and Society is a leftist bio-Luddite lobbying group formed in the late 1990s to raise concerns about “technoeugenics” leading to a divide between the “GenRich” and the “GenPoor.”

Some argue that the complexity of genetic modification and cultural aversion to experimenting on children would make this scenario unlikely. Others say that even if it did come to pass, it wouldn’t necessarily translate into political inequality, as political rights are not based on physical traits. However, still others argue that parents should have the right to select advantageous physical and intellectual traits for their children based on reproductive rights and the natural duty of parents to do what is right for their children. This could include selecting for IQ, height, gender, and even skin color.

The science of designer babies already exists in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and in vitro fertilization, which enjoy widespread support for safeguarding against genetic diseases. Some fear that banning the technology over fears of genetic castes might exacerbate the problem, as the wealthy will still be able to go to a country without a ban on designer babies.

7  Gray Goo

Medical robot
In 1986, engineer Eric Drexler raised fears of a nanotechnological insurrection against the human race. While he detailed the many potential benefits of nanotechnology, such as destroying cancer cells and repairing DNA, he also expressed concerns that molecule-sized, self-replicating robots could begin to out-compete natural plants and microorganisms, taking over every ecological niche and eventually consuming all of Earth’s resources: the so-called “gray goo” scenario, also known as “global ecophagy.”

Concern over the predictions led to Prey by Michael Crichton and an agitated Prince Charles convening a “nanotech summit” at his country estate in Gloucestershire. Nanotechnologists such as Richard Smalley responded by saying that the “molecular manufacturing” needed to create these nanobots was scientifically impossible. In order to manipulate atoms (which are sensitive to the electronic bonds of surrounding atoms), molecular assemblers would need additional manipulator “fingers,” but there wouldn’t be enough room at the atomic level. This is known as the “fat fingers” problem. There is also the “sticker fingers” problem: The atoms being moved around by the manipulators would get stuck to them with no feasible way to unstick them. Drexler responded by saying that Smalley’s incredulous attitude toward molecular manipulators came down to a desire to reduce public fears and protect funding for nanotechnology research.

One solution to the threat of gray goo is another form of nanotechnology that would perform a beneficial role: blue goo. These would be self-replicating police nanobots designed as a defense against autonomous and misbehaving gray goo. However, they would also need to be omnipresent, strong, robust, resistant to the gray goo’s effects, and completely under human control. If the blue goo was subverted or overpowered by the gray goo, however, it could very well end up turning against us as well.

Other potential limits on the spread of gray goo include limited replication capacity, wide dispersal, energy and chemical element requirements, or the use of rare elements such as titanium or diamond in constructing molecular assemblers. As the human body contains very little of these rare elements, the goo wouldn’t likely turn on us, although they may eat our smartphones. If these fail-safes didn’t work, however, the end result could be a post-human, post-ecological world of (potentially competing) nanobot swarms.

6  Artificial Intelligence

5- artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the sub-field of computer science devoted to creating machines able to perform tasks associated with human intelligence. There are two forms of theoretical AI: narrow, soft, or weak AI, and general, or strong AI. Soft AI is inspired by the human brain but doesn’t seek to mimic it—it’s a statistically oriented computer intelligence able to sort through vast reams of data with algorithms to perform tasks like playing chess, answering Jeopardy questions, taking reservations, and giving GPS directions. The tasks these AIs perform are achieved in ways bearing little resemblance to human thinking patterns.

Strong AI is designed to mimic human intelligence in reasoning, planning, learning, vision, and natural language conversations. Proponents for strong AI hope to achieve singularity, a point in which machine intelligence matches and exceeds human intelligence, after which technological progress will rapidly accelerate and we will be unable to predict or even comprehend the future development of civilization.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk is vocal about the risks of artificial intelligence: “In the movie Terminator, they didn’t create A.I. to—they didn’t expect, you know some sort of Terminator-like outcome. It is sort of like the Monty Python thing: Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition. It’s just—you know, but you have to be careful.” He’s far from alone. Bill Gates has expressed concern, and even Stephen Hawking sees reasons to be worried: “The primitive forms of artificial intelligence we already have, have proved very useful. But I think the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Once humans develop artificial intelligence it would take off on its own and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”

Many scientists dismiss these fears as overblown and believe that the development of machine intelligence will be complementary to humanity rather than replacing it outright.

5  Wireheads

6- wireheads
A wirehead is a science fiction concept for an individual who stimulates the pleasure center of the brain with electric current, particularly one addicted to the activity. The concept first appeared in Larry Niven’s Known Space series in the 1970s but was a common theme in cyberpunk fiction. These ideas likely sprang from experiments in the 1950s when James Olds placed electrodes in the mesolimbic dopamine pathways of rats. The rats would ignore food and sleep in lieu of self-administering bursts of instant pleasure until they died of starvation. Olds repeated the same experiments on other animals and humans, with the latter referring to the experience as “orgasmic.”

There are some who believe that the adoption of this technology could help with the elimination of suffering from the human experience without harming others or damaging the environment. This is the dream of the so-called Abolitionist project, which seeks to combine wireheading, designer drugs, and genetic engineering to create the perfect society. However, mere orgasmic happiness would likely lead to global extinction given the track record, so it would have to be modified. A wearable technology known as Thync allows you to alter your mood and state of mind for calm or energy—without the side effects or addiction of pharmaceuticals. The technology is based on transcranial direct-current stimulation, or tDCS, a low-cost way of sending electric current to the brain to improve intelligence, learning, vigilance, and memory. It’s also supposed to help with chronic pain and the symptoms of depression, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s, and schizophrenia.

However, some futurists have raised fears of another form of mind-altering technology: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. This technology can be used to stimulate psychopathy by temporarily turning off that part of the amygdala which processes fear, giving the confidence of alcohol intoxication without the loss of clarity. The fear is that meddling with the human brain may create a future where humans are not only able to adjust their mood at will, but also able to turn off their capacity for fear and empathy when convenient. While these beings may or may not be genetically identical to modern humans, their emotional and social worlds may very well become utterly alien.

4  Infomorphs

7- infomorphs
In 1991, Charles Platt published The Silicon Mind, a book about a quest for immortality involving copying human minds onto computers, which created entities called “infomorphs.” In 1996, Russian artificial intelligence theorist Alexander Chislenko borrowed the name to describe a theoretical entity based on distributed intelligence. These networked intelligences would be able to share knowledge and experiences much more readily than we can, leading to massive changes in the concepts of identity and personality, much like the hive consciousness discussed earlier.

Not limited by physical bodies, these entities would find many human notions alien and irrelevant, perhaps even quaint. The term is also used to describe the process of uploading human minds onto computers to create backups of the human brain. This is described as transferring a person’s mental structure from a biological matrix to an electronic or informational one. The advantages of uploading one’s mind include greater economic growth, the ability to reprogram ourselves for greater intelligence or happiness, reduced impact on the environment, and liberation from the laws of physics and the inevitability of personal death.

There are many potential issues with mind uploading as a means of transcending the bounds of our human form. Technical arguments against it include the belief that it would be impossible to replicate the unpredictable and nonlinear interactions between brain cells that constitutes human intelligence, not to mention the fact that we still don’t understand how consciousness exists at all. There are also ethical problems in developing the technology. For example, we would never be able to tell if it really worked: How can we know whether uploaded minds are truly conscious, or just mimicked copies behaving like an individual with no real internal mental state?. The threat of abuse and manipulation of infomorphs is also a major concern.

3  Transgenic Humans

8- transgenics
Transgenic animals have a foreign gene deliberately inserted into their genome. This technology has been used to create glow-in-the-dark mice as well as Glofish, fish which have been genetically altered with luminescent colors. The technology has been used in attempts to revive the woolly mammoth, and there are debates over whether to use transgenic primates to study the human condition. There is also the prospect of transgenic humans, who would benefit from genetic advantages borrowed from other animal species.

Producing transgenic humans would require a number of steps. A suitable transgene would need to be isolated and promoted to express in the right way at the right time, then placed inside a human cell grown in tissue culture. A nucleus from the transgenic human cell would need to be placed in an enucleated egg cell, then allowed to grow and divide. The now-developing embryo would be placed into a womb to come to term. The technologies needed to achieve all these steps are already available, and human and non-human genes have already been mixed through byproducts of in vitro and stem cell research.

Some argue that the use of transgenes to modify humans can open up abilities conferred by nature onto other animal species, like sonar, acute senses, and the ability to photosynthesize or produce our own essential nutrients. The potential value would be greater than any concerns regarding human dignity, which is tied to our ability to reason rather than our genetic integrity. We could borrow genes from chimps to increase the efficiency of our muscles and performance on memorization tasks and strategic planning.

But the implications are equally scary. Some people are concerned by the possibility of the use of “harvest transhumans“—people bred and raised with the intention of being used for medical experiments related to transgenes. There is also the fear known as “species anxiety,” which has led to laws in Canada and parts of the United States banning the creation of multi-species chimeras. But science marches on, and in 100 years, the world could be full of humans with a touch of chimp, bat, octopus, or mouse.

2  Cyborgs

9- cyborg
The word “cyborg” was first used in a 1960 article by Manfred Clynes and Nathan S. Kline. They were speculating on ways to enhance unconscious self-regulatory control functions through chemical or electronic means in order to permit humans to better survive across varied environmental conditions, with the ultimate goal of making humans better able to explore the cosmos. They wrote: “If man in space, in addition to flying his vehicle, must continuously be checking on things and making adjustments merely in order to keep himself alive, he becomes a slave to the machine. The purpose of the Cyborg, as well as his own homeostatic systems, is to provide an organizational system in which such robot-like problems are taken care of automatically and unconsciously, leaving man free to explore, to create, to think, and to feel.”

The nomenclature was later applied to medical patients dependent on prosthetics and implants and is used culturally as a metaphor to describe our ever-increasing dependence on technology. Recent explorations into practical cybernetics have included bionic arms, a way of connecting the nerve system with computers via electrodes, a prosthetic eye camera, and a very literal “thumb drive.”

In 2015, Professor Yuval Noah Harari from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem predicted that, within 200 years, human beings will become godlike cyborgs due to our need to upgrade ourselves. Zoltan Istvan, founder of the Transhumanist Politic Party, promotes a platform of heavy government spending on the development of artificial hearts and cranial implants designed to alert health authorities to a crisis and reduce crime rates. Meanwhile, the US military’s research wing DARPA has announced the creation of a Biological Technologies Office (BTO) to “explore the increasingly dynamic intersection of biology and the physical sciences.” They hope to develop technologies for future soldiers, including advanced prosthetics featuring mind-controlled limbs and neural interfaces, as well as cybernetic solutions to blood loss and PTSD.

Another DARPA initiative with the potential for civilian application (or horror) is the development of artificial chromosomes. They envision future soldiers who don’t need sleep, require minimal sustenance, and have infrared vision. A name for a future merger of man and machine has been proposed: Homo electricus.

1  Multiple Human Species

10- multiple humans
Speciation is a process by which multiple new species arise from a common ancestral species. The concept was first explored in fiction by Olaf Stapleton in his 1930 book Last and First Men, which explored the rise and fall of 18 distinct human species over the next two billion years and our eventual migration from Earth to Venus. More recently, Douglas Dixon’s Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future explored the same concept, in which civilization collapses after 200 years of genetic engineering. Some of humanity escapes into space, only to return a few million years later to discover that man has branched off and evolved into a myriad of (usually non-sentient) forms in the interim.

If human evolution continues, it is possible that there could be multiple human species in millions of years, though many believe it is unlikely. A 2009 study by Yale University found evidence that ovulatory characteristics mean that shorter, stouter women have more children, meaning that natural selection is beginning to select for these physical traits. Meanwhile, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller believes that human evolution will speed up due to modern society being better equipped at sexual selection, as well as the rise of genetic engineering.

We’ve talked about possible next steps in human evolution before. Cadell Last, a doctoral student in evolutionary anthropology and a researcher at the Global Brain Institute, believes that we may be on the cusp of a new great evolutionary transition, with technology driving us to become a longer-lived species with delayed reproduction and a heavier influence on cultural activities. Speciation into multiple human species is unlikely to happen, because human society is both too widespread and too integrated. Historically, there has been no evidence of an isolated group of humans going through the Galapagos scenario of speciation.

However, if humanity expands to other planets and star systems, the potential for the rise of new human species adapted to different conditions increases, though they will hardly inherit the Earth, unless they come back four million years later with an armada. Which, of course, they would.



Dutch startup plans first 3D printed steel bridge to span Amsterdam canal

June 27, 2015


A Dutch startup has unveiled plans to build the world’s first 3D-printed bridge across an Amsterdam canal, a technique that could become standard on future construction sites.

Using robotic printers “that can ‘draw’ steel structures in 3D, we will print a (pedestrian) bridge over water in the centre of Amsterdam,” engineering startup company MX3D said in a statement, hoping to kick off the project by September.

The plan involves robotic arm printers ‘walking’ across the canal as it slides along the bridge’s edges, essentially printing its own support structure out of thin air as it moves along.

Specially-designed robotic arms heat the metal to a searing 1,500 degrees Celsius (around 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit) to painstakingly weld the structure drop-by-drop, using a computer programme to plot the sophisticated design.

“The underlying principle is very simple. We have connected an advanced welding machine to an industrial robot arm,” said the bridge’s designer Joris Laarman.

“We now use our own intelligent software to operate these machines so they can print very complex metal shapes which can differ each time,” Laarman said of the project also involving the Heijmans construction company and Autodesk software.

So far, the robotic arm has been used to print smaller metal structures, but the bridge will be the first ever large-scale deployment of the technology, MX3D spokeswoman Eva James said.

It is hoped that the bridge will be a first step towards seeing the technique used on construction sites, especially those involving dangerous tasks such as on high buildings, she said.

The technique also removes the need for scaffolding as the robot arms use the very structure they print as support.

The designers are now in talks with the Amsterdam city council to find a site for the project which they hope will be completed by mid-2017.

“I strongly believe in the future of digital manufacturing and local production,” said Laarman. “It’s a new form of craftsmanship.”

“This bridge can show how 3D printing has finally entered the world of large-scale functional objects and sustainable materials,” he said.

Amsterdam city council spokeswoman Charlene Verweij said the Dutch capital was supporting the project.

“We are still in negotiations as to where exactly the bridge will be built,” she said.


Elon Musk Wants To Launch 4,000 Satellites That Will Provide Internet From Space

June 27, 2015


Elon Musk is currently seeking government approval to begin testing on a project to broadcast the Internet from 4,000 satellites orbiting the Earth. He claims he wants to beam high-speed Internet to all corners of the world.

The plan would transform SpaceX from a company based solely on rockets and spaceflight into an Internet provider to rival the likes of Comcast, Verizon, and other telecom companies in a worldwide market thought to be worth over $2.1 trillion annually. Musk’s plan is to send his Falcon 9 rocket up into space, and then deploy a fleet of satellites around the planet.

He announced his plan earlier in the year, but it has just been released that SpaceX has made a formal request for permission from the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to begin testing next year. Musk wants to find out if the current antenna on his satellites would be strong enough to send the signals back down to Earth.

This isn’t the first time that a dot-com billionaire has dabbled in Internet satellites, and probably won’t be the last either. During the 1990s, a company founded by Bill Gates aspired to do something similar, but as costs spiraled out of control, the plan eventually collapsed. Even the Internet giant of Facebook has scrapped plans for a $500 million satellite to spread the Internet to the far reaches of the world.

But Musk is apparently fairly confident that he’ll be able to get 4,000 up and working. He claims that using lots of small machines that are both cheap and efficient will help his plans overcome previous problems of relying on larger satellites that are more difficult to replace if something were to go awry. And by manufacturing them all at SpaceX, he hopes to keep costs down and solve supply issues.

Grand as his scheme may be, and even if the FCC grant him permission to start his testing, the logistics of beaming high-speed Internet across the globe still make his chances of pulling this off fairly slim. Musk himself has already conceded that getting permission to operate in countries across the world would be “difficult, if not impossible.”

Main image credit: NVIDIA Corporation/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


By 2050, the Earth-Moon region could be a settled, commercial haven: NASA researchers

May 16, 2015


The year 2050 isn’t a long way off. By the time it comes around commercial firms will control Lower Earth Orbit, space tourism will be ‘very viable’, space-led power generation will be in production and there will be both small and large settlements on the Moon.

These are the thoughts of a NASA-formed initiative that was created to “speculate” how “earth, space, and public/private entities might be operating and relating to each other” in the future.

In a similar way to how the not-so-top secret Google X works on projects that are considered ‘Moonshots’ – projects that are long shots – this space research looked at how the space between Earth and the Moon would be changed beyond recognition due to commercialisation.

The future thinkers behind how space exploration and relations will look in 35 years time came together twice in the last two years as part of a project called ‘Space 2100’. Their research was published online by NASA earlier in March, although the agency is keen to stress that the predictions and suggestions are not “official… policy or intentions”.

The Cis-lunar economy

Primarily, the direction of the six-strong research group was led by the thoughts of Ken Murphy, who coined the idea of the ‘cislunar econosphere’ in 2012. This idea is based around the principle that as space travel becomes more common, the Moon and anything closer will increasingly be controlled by commercial companies rather than by governments.

“Governments will play a major role in developing methods and negotiating standards and policies so that vehicles and settlements owned/operated by a variety of entities can operate, co-operate and support each other via a flexible, collaborative infrastructure, even though they may both compete and team with each other economically,” said the researchers in their report.

The growth of commercial space ventures such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX is living proof that in (most) of our lifetimes, space won’t be a mysterious place that is beyond our imaginations, let alone our reach.

The commercial takeover of the space industry has already started with SpaceX’s approval to launch military and spy satellites for US government. On the less intimidating front, the same is happening in the commercial sphere with the much-delayed work of Virgin Galactic and the highly improbable Mars One. 

As Murphy said back in 2012, we need to “embrace the chaos of free markets” to propel us into space.

“The first thing to understand is that we are not going to go straight to the Moon and then begin backfilling cislunar space with commercial activity, although some folks advocate for such,” he said.

“What’s going to happen is that activity is going to expand outward.”

This expansion outwards could eventually see the creation of two habitats on Mars; one large and one small.

The smaller habitat will initially be created to construct the larger community, but its purpose will shift towards housing personnel who will be responsible for mining operations to get valuable resources from the Moon.

“The 300-person habitat in the moon’s vicinity will house personnel to run mining operations, way stations, and construction of a large habitat,” the researchers wrote.

“This habitat will provide radiation shielding and artificial gravity.

“It will demonstrate food production and other technologies, using in-situ space materials to achieve near self-sufficiency.”

“The large habitat (thousands or tens of thousands of residents) might be used for a lunar civilization or become the initial instance of portable communities for colonizing other parts of the solar system.”

They also envisioned that 3D printing will have a large part to play in the development of off-Earth communities. Last year the first 3D printer was sent to space and in recent weeks a NASA scientists has said that by the time the printing technique is deployed on Mars, we will be looking to print entire buildings and settlements.

However, the report says that while they were focussing on what would have changed between the Earth and the Moon, they believe there would have been at least one manned mission to Mars by 2050. Just recently, the space agency has been testing its ‘flying saucer’, which is set to be involved in delivering astronauts to the planet’s surface.

This manned mission to the Red Planet would allow for “deep space lessons learned” to be applied to what is happening closer to home.

The challenges

This black-sky speculating from the NASA staff will be music to the ears of those who are looking forward into the future. But as the authors of the paper observe, there are going to be plenty of challenges to overcome before we get there.

From first impressions, the problem with many of the scientists’ speculations would be the technological advancements that would be needed to achieve their thoughts. However, these are rapidly progressing and will continue to do so.

“Our current approaches combined with normal acceleration in computing and manufacturing,” will allow this, they said.

Although much of this future development is likely to happen because the human race needs it happen to survive, a big problem will be space politics and law.

For example, the researchers point out that the Moon Treaty may lead to complications with the mining of resources from the rock.

They said that the treaty “introduced the concept that while a celestial body may not be appropriated, a natural resource, once extracted, might be subject to appropriation, with possible governance and limitation by an international body.”

As well as a debate around the substance of any material taken from the Moon with a view to further use, there are also international economic and political issues around the mining process. Given world leaders can’t agree on issues around how to tackle extremism or other internationally significant concerns, there are bound to be complexities when it comes to colonising the Moon and other planets.

To add to this, there have already been territory problems on the International Space Station.

The Outer Space Treaty 1976 sets out that the Moon and other bodies “shall be free for exploration” and that the Moon is “not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupations”.

Despite this long-standing agreement between more than 100 countries, it’s possible that it may not be respected or there may be calls for change when travel to the moon is an everyday occurrence.

As well as this, the researchers say that space tourism doesn’t fit into the legal definition of Commercial Human Spaceflight, and there will be liability issues – what happens if 50 people die on a spaceflight?

It is issues such as these that have caused some commentators to call for more space lawyers to start practicing.

Looking towards 2100

If the paper is correct, commercialising the moon will become a reality in the lifetimes of many people who are currently alive.

But the researchers’ initial project was to look at what could happen around the space industry by 2100. Unsurprisingly, their ideas focussed on the larger concepts, such as energy production, clean living, the control of ageing and more. Broader themes are undoubtedly easier to predict than specific enhancements.
Included in this, they drew up a timeline of what could be in place by 2100.

At the furthest reaches of their minds they foresee that robotic missions for interstellar space colony construction may be in place.

They also say that there may be space research conducted through citizen outreach and partnerships.

On the way to making space this accessible, the researchers said that during 2050-2075 there could be the development of rendezvous and rescue vehicles for those in need of help in space. As well as this, interstellar robotic probes could be launched and space may be accessible to academic researches and small businesses, at a low cost.

Whether any of what the paper’s authors have forecast comes true or not will remain to be seen, but what is almost certain is that we will have to discuss the wider issues about our future in space and how commercialisation alongside it will work.

As Murphy said back in 2012: “What should be clear is that economic development is not easy. It depends on complex webs of inter-relationships nurturing one another to grow the whole.

“It also requires an openness to pursuing things in a new way, even if they are perceived as disruptive to existing markets.”

When it comes to space, this is going to be the key.


Scientists Can Read Your Mind Using These Images Of The Brain

May 16, 2015


Scientists are now able to read people’s minds using MRI images of the brain that show specific patterns of neural activity.

In an experiment conducted by Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania U.S., researchers deduced what people were thinking about by observing brain activity following a simple learning task.

Their study, funded by the US Office of Naval research, involved teaching a group of 16 people about the diet and habits of eight different animals and observing how they processed the new information.

the study participants learned about the habitat a

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the scientists found that each person had a specific ‘brain activation signature’ — an indication of the neural activity — for the different animals.

So, each person had specific ‘habitat’ regions in the brain that stored new information about where the animals lived and dedicated ‘diet regions’ where the newly learned knowledge about animals’ diets was stored.

In this image ‘habitat’ brain regions are represented in green and ‘diet’ regions in red and blue.

mind reading

Since each animal invoked specific types of brain activity, scientists were able to use fMRI images and find out what animal each person was thinking about at any given time.

Describing the significance of the research Carnegie Mellon University stated that the program was in effect ‘reading their (participants) minds as they contemplated a brand-new thought.’

The wider implication of this is that scientists could one day use this method to look inside our minds and find out what type of objects we’re thinking about but based on this study alone, the method would only apply to objects such as houses, bananas or cars and not abstract thoughts.

The research, published in Human Brain Mapping, also revealed that animals that had shared diets or habitats gave rise to similar brain signatures.

Co-author and neuroscientist Marcel Just said: “The activation signature of a concept is a composite of the different types of knowledge of the concept that a person has stored, and each type of knowledge is stored in its own characteristic set of regions.”

Alongside the potentially scary thought of other people being able to read our minds, the study is also significant for learning about how the human brain processes new information.

Lead author Andrew Bauer explained:

“Each time we learn something, we permanently change our brains in a systematic way.

“It was exciting to see our study successfully implant the information about extinct animals into the expected locations in the brain’s filing system.”

Bauer and Just’s paper concluded that our brains all use a similar ‘filing system’ to process new information.

They claim their results will be able to help develop more effective ways of teaching complicated subjects in school as well as shed light on how to reverse the loss of knowledge that accompanies disorders such as Alzheimer and dementia.



Super Samurai: Robot beats Japanese master swordsman

May 16, 2015


Japanese engineers have come up with a robot that can copy the moves of a samurai sword master and then beat his “teacher” in a fight. The samurai machine carries out hard-angled cuts with speed and precision – without breaking sweat.

Among the robot’s most spectacular accomplishments is a party trick: being able to slice a runner bean lengthways.

The robot competed against renowned Japanese swordsman Isao Machii, from whom it learned how to fight by motion capturing his moves.

Machii can slice a fried shrimp fired at him at about 130 km per hour, according to The Independent, but he still lost his swordfight against the machine.

Robot arms, which have truly amazing skills, have recently entered the spotlight: one beat a world table tennis champion in March, while Russian military robots scored high at a shooting challenge a month ago during field training.

In April, a UK company unveiled a robo-chef capable of preparing meals from scratch.


The Top Jobs In 10 Years Might Not Be What You Expect

May 16, 2015


We talked to three futurists to find out what the hot jobs of 2025 could be, and their answers may surprise you.

For decades, the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s Economic and Employment Projections have been the bellwether for predicting what the hottest jobs up to a decade out would be. But with the rapid pace of technological change disrupting industries faster than ever before (think: robotics, 3-D printing, the sharing economy), it’s becoming obvious to many futurists that past trends may no longer be a reliable indicator of future job prospects.

“In the last two centuries, we’ve seen two significant shifts in the global labor market,” says Graeme Codrington, futurist at TomorrowToday Global. “First we stripped the agricultural sector of workers, and then we did the same to manufacturing. Now the machines are coming for the tertiary sector, and will begin to strip companies of their white-collar workers in the next decade.”

What that means, says Codrington, is that some of the hottest jobs of today could be obsolete by 2025 (check out the sidebar to see if yours is on the chopping block). Yet all hope isn’t lost, he says. “History tells us that somehow the labor market creates new jobs whenever it destroys some old ones. While it’s easy to see how the overall job market could contract significantly, and certainly many jobs that exist today will not exist in a decade or two, it’s also quite easy to see myriad new jobs being created.”

So just what are the jobs that will be in demand in this brave new world only a decade away? Codrington and two other futurists give us their predictions.

Personal Worker Brand Coaches And Managers

“At TomorrowToday, we’re predicting that nearly 25% of today’s full-time employees will be working ‘on demand,’” says Codrington, referring to the increasing preference of companies to hire freelancers for short contracts when the need arises instead of keeping people on staff.

Currently the on-demand economy is popular in the creative fields or for the odd personal-services job, but Codrington notes that almost any job that can be done at a digital distance will be attractive for companies to opt for freelancers over staff, even when looking to hire “top-end professionals who can solve significant problems for companies.”

The demand for these “on demand” workers will result in an increased need for individuals to brand themselves to set them apart from the competition. To do so, they will need a new set of skills related to “self-management, self-promotion, relentless marketing, administration, and self-development,” says Codrington—anyone who can teach this on-demand workforce these skills will be in great demand themselves.

Professional Triber

Related to Codrington’s personal worker brand coaches and managers will be the role of what he calls the “professional triber,” says Joe Tankersley, a futurist and strategic designer at Unique Visions. Tankersley says that as more companies rely on on-demand workers, the role of a professional triber—a freelance professional manager that specializes in putting teams together for very specific projects—will be in demand.

The professional triber is “the Hollywood model dispersed across the general workplace,” says Tankersley. Just as Hollywood studios don’t themselves hire the individual cinematographer, editor, scriptwriters, and actors to make a movie, neither will companies of the future want to hire individual components of a team to get a job done.

Instead, they’ll turn to the professional triber, or director, to let them assemble the team they think is most appropriate to complete the project. Companies, just as Hollywood studios do with directors, will keep working with the same triber, provided his varying teams keep producing hits.

Freelance Professors

Tankersley also believes that by 2025, there will be a large need for freelance professors as teaching moves into the on-demand realm. “The continued growth of online courses and the introduction of alternative accreditations will spawn a growth in freelance or independent professors. By 2025 all you need to start your own university is a great online teaching style, course materials, and marketing plan.”

Urban Farmers

Though technology continues to move the world into the virtual space, the 21st century may see the return of local farming due to the number of people living in urban areas and the increasing awareness of the detrimental environmental impacts of industrial farming.

“Small artisan farmers will continue to grow in numbers as urban farming becomes a small but significant part of the food chain,” says Tankersley, who believes that individuals and companies will spring up to teach and assist amateur urban farmers lead a healthier and more eco-conscious life.

End-Of-Life Planner

By the year 2100, the planet is predicted to have another 4 billion inhabitants, yet well before then, the average age of a person living here will also increase. By 2025, the World Health Organization predicts that 63% of the global population will live to over the age of 65—some well past their centenary. As the average age continues to get older, Tankersley says end-of-life planning will become a hot job sector by 2025.”As boomers grow older, they will reshape the last phase of life as they have every other phase. We can expect to see a major push to redefine end of life. New ‘business’ opportunities will range from life memorial planners as funerals become more elaborate than weddings, and even euthanasia guides as more boomers opt to decide when life ends.”

Senior Carer

The aging population will seriously start affecting world economies in the next decade, agrees Codrington, and a workforce built around caring for the aging population will be one of the hottest sectors of the economy, with demand for employees well outstripping the supply of workers trained in the field.

“My mother is one of many women in their 50s and 60s, many divorced or widowed, who are being recruited across the EU and UK to spend a few months a year looking after the elderly in those countries. Life expectancy is increasing by about 1.5 days a week at the moment, and more than half of all the people who have ever turned 80 are still alive.

In countries with socialized health care, the government provides personal care for these people, and is going to need more and more carers in the next few decades. By 2025, what is today mainly physical care will have extended to psychological care as well.”

Remote Health Care Specialist

Unsurprisingly, not only will the world need more carers in 2025, but there will be a need for people who can be remote health care specialists to offload some of the work of local or regional health care specialists who need to commit their time to caring for patients with more urgent diseases.

“This is a fairly new hot job in 2015, but will continue to grow and develop,” says Codrington. “It encompasses a range of health care professionals who either design devices and systems that can proactively track health issues and/or are involved in remote or virtual health care relationships with patients.”

Interestingly, Codrington believes that by 2025, the highest-paying jobs in this field will all be held by Apple employees. “There is no doubt that with their iOS 8 released Health app and their integration of myriad health apps with the Apple Watch, Apple are making a play in this space, and by 2025 are likely to be the world’s leading remote and proactive health care company.”

Neuro-Implant Technicians

It may sound like science fiction, but advances in neurotechnology are set to explode in the next decade. Luke Skywalker’s robotic hand, digital telepathy, and even downloading your mind to a computer, could soon come to be. All this means neuro-implant technology will be a hot growing career field.

“Our knowledge of the brain is developing faster than almost any scientific field at the moment, and by 2025 our ability to understand the brain will be exponentially improved from today,” says Codrington. “We will need a vast range of disciplines to be focused on neurosciences, including brain surgeons, neuro-augmentation and implant technicians and developers, brain backup engineers, real-time MRI scanners and interpreters, and neuro-robotic engineers to build mind-controlled robots and machines.”

Smart-Home Handyperson

Moving away from the health sector, Codrington says the burgeoning Internet of Things industry, which is expected to be a $19 trillion market by 2020, will create a number of new jobs not just for engineers, but for technically adept handymen and women. Specifically, Codrington believes there will be a huge market for smart-home installers.

“Aluminum siding salesmen were followed by the double glazers, the air conditioners, the gasmen, and a whole host of others, going door to door over the past half century helping ordinary people improve their homes,” he says. “It might not be door to door anymore, but there is going to be plenty of work for those who can bring various aspects of the Internet of Things into our homes in the next few decades.”

Virtual Reality Experience Designer

Part of the expansion of the Internet of Things into our homes will involve the increasing use of virtual reality for both work and play. Offices could become obsolete if you can just log in virtually from your home office and interact with your colleagues as if you were in the same room. And when it comes to virtual reality for home entertainment, well, that 72-inch television and PS4 are going to look positively archaic in 2025. Virtual reality will be as much a part of our lives as the Internet and our iPhones are today—and that means people who can design the best VR experiences will be in huge demand.

“In every part of our lives, virtual reality—using much more advanced systems than Oculus Rift or MS HoloLens—will have become everyday by 2025,” says Codrington. “We will need VR experience designers in every part of our lives to design and implement virtual reality experiences for us. From training and conference experiences in the workplace, to global tourism and fantasy running trails for our leisure, to even virtual relationships like the OS in the movie Her, virtual reality will need directors, actors, developers, and designers to make virtual reality very real for us.”

John Danaher, a lecturer at NUI Galway’s School of Law and an expert in the philosophy of law and emerging technologies, agrees. “With the growth of virtual reality software and hardware, I think there will be a niche for people who can design special experiences for people in virtual reality environments,” says Danaher. Why virtual reality experiences in particular and not real-world ones? Well, because “virtual reality will provide more opportunities for creative thinkers.”

Sex Worker Coach

Danaher also believes that an increasingly hot job in the future may actually be one of the oldest professions on the planet: sex work.

“Erotic labor may be a niche area for humans in the future,” says Danaher, who has written at length about technological unemployment and sex work. Danaher is one of the many futurists who believe that robots and software will increasingly put the population out of work as the century progresses. After all, robots don’t need breaks, don’t get sick, and can generally do things better and faster than humans already. Yet one area where humans currently excel over robots is sex—which is a good thing, considering many people may be turning to sex work to support themselves since a lot of today’s jobs might be redundant by then.

“I think, given the choice, most humans will prefer to have sex with another human rather than a machine. This could have interesting consequences for the sex work industry, which has always existed, be it legal or otherwise,” says Danaher. “Increased automation in other industries will drive humans toward niche areas in which they have an advantage over machines. Sex work could be one of those areas.”

But Danaher says even in sex work, there will be robots and virtual reality devices that offer some possibility for sexual gratification too. That’s why he feels there will be a need for sex worker coaches to train sex workers to compete with their digital counterparts. “This will increase the market for people who can train humans to be effective sex workers,” he says, and also notes that he believes the threat of technological unemployment will lead to further legalization of sex work around the world.

3-D Printer Design Specialist

3-D printers have been a boon to the manufacturing and prototyping industries for years, yet the large majority of the consumer population seem to have little interest in learning to use them. Danaher doesn’t believe this apathy from the general public will dissipate by 2025, but he does believe an increasing number of people will come to appreciate the advantages of 3-D printing, which means they’ll hire people to design and print their objects for them.

“I’m not sure that these people will make much money, given that the designs will be easily copied and shared, but there may be a premium at the high end of the market,” says Danaher. “The rich will pay their own designers to create bespoke products for them. Just as companies already hire specialist designers, imagine having your own personal Jony Ive to design your 3-D-printed furniture.”