Given the participation of theoretical physicist and author of "From Eternity to Here" at this year's IdeaFestival, Sean Carroll, I've become interested in visual descriptions of time. This one lends perspective to our presence.
Following an asteroid landing in 2005 and a lengthy delay in guiding the craft home, the seven year mission of Hayabusa culminated in this fiery reentry shot from an airborne observatory and posted to YouTube. Shortly before being vaporized by the intense from the shallow reentry the spacecraft deposited cargo - clearly seen on the video - that scientists hope will shed more light on origins of our solar system.
There's another aspect to Hayabusa that is perhaps even grander. The image of this cleverly fabricated robot burning up across the night sky evokes some powerful emotions. Here is one of our pioneer voyagers of the deeper universe that lies all about us. A persistent machine, nurtured and nursed through a variety of problems by its smart operators. Seven years on it returns, carrying - we hope - a precious sample that will expand our view of nature. Seven years is a long time these days, Hayabusa has come back to a different world. This is a glimpse of our future in the solar system. The meteor-like streaks of returning probes, and eventually astronauts, lighting our skies. New mariners, returning to harbor, bringing exotica that change everything, just as they find a world changed by time.
'With 30 linear steps, you get to 30,' [Ray Kurzweil] often says in speeches. 'With 30 steps exponentially, you get to one billion. The price-performance of computers has improved one billion times since I was a student. In 25 years, a computer as powerful as today’s smartphones will be the size of a blood cell.'
Ray Kurzweil, who spoke at the IdeaFestival in 2006, believes that "thirty exponential steps" will lead to a better future. Among the many questions raised by "Merely Human, That's So Yesterday:" for whom?
In conflict, it's (still) about the "who" - Peter W. Singer
On the lookout for more about IdeaFestival 2010 presenter Peter W. Singer, I ran across a video that features the Brookings Institute analyst and author describing his work, which focuses on conflict and our relationship with technology. In the background I recognized the video playing here, which was taken a couple years ago. I blogged it. Commenting then:
Initially, I was weirded out. Looking like a cross between a giant fly and a horse, there's no question that this robot is exceptionally life like... Perhaps that's one reason why I've changed my mind about the possibility of artificial intelligence. Intelligent robots increasingly pass the look test.
But seeing the person accompanying the robot kick it hard in the side - curiously, the scene is replayed in slow motion - I was suddenly aware of another emotion.
As it briefly flailed about trying to regain its footing, I felt genuinely sorry for it.
Watching the video a couple of times again, I was reminded of how we're attracted to things with minds, how the sound of a parent's voice can light up an infant's eyes - how the cooing of a lover can bring union - how the sight of someone in distress can catalyze an emotion buried in our limbs. This is good.
Thus cued, we reach out.
Author, most recently, of "Wired for War," Singer makes clear that the instruments of modern war have sharpened the ages-old questions around armed conflict. It's no longer about the what - it never really was - but as weapons become increasingly smart, and as issues of agency and culpability are raised afresh, about the who.