s3e11: Gigawatt Laser Array 

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

2:45pm at the XOXO Outpost in Portland on Tuesday, April 12th 2016 on a day that feels like a Wednesday, isn’t sunny, is pretty much overcast and right in the middle of the afternoon of what Douglas Adams would probably call the long, dark, tea-time of the soul when it’s clear that more Diet Coke isn’t going to fix the problem and that it’s probably time to knuckle down and *get on with something* rather than aimlessly grazing the content farms and picking up bits and pieces.

Currently listening to: Where My Heart Will Take Me by Russell Watson, also known as That Goddamn Theme Song To Star Trek: Enterprise[0] which hey is actually an appropriate sappy song about humanity’s yearning for space when you put it against the starts-out-factual-ends-up-fictional title sequence (side note: they’d probably add some SpaceX, Virgin Galatic and Blue Origin footage in these days). This track, amongst others, is in an iTunes and Spotify playlist that was put together while I was in treatment for the express goal of acting as a prophylaxis against suicidal ideation. So I’ve got that going for me.

[0] ENTERPRISE Season 1 & 2 Opening Titles (HQ) – YouTube

1.0 Gigawatt Laser Array

I feel, a little, that the lede has been buried (oh, but I guess there are quite a few ledes in this story) in the news that Yuri Milner wants to send some interstellar probes out of the solar system to go poke Alpha Centauri with a stick[0]. I mean, sure, Milner and Zuckerberg aren’t doing a Steve Jobs and tacking this announcement on the end of the f8 developer keynote as a “one more thing, we launched them last week and they’re already a substantial portion of c”, but in the same way that Elon Musk’s company being able to lob cargo up into various configurations of Earth orbit is *a bit like a private company having the ability to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles* or just a few steps from raining down some rods from god[1] (good news: at least the launch stage of the ICBM can be recovered now, resulting in lower total-cost-of-bombardment), the side-effect of wanting to launch a whole bunch of iPhone-sized interstellar probes powered solar sails is that said billionaires are also anticipating building a Very Large Laser Array to power said probes. Which is standard for 2016, I suppose: a couple billionaires get to announce building a gigawatt half-mile array of lasers and instead we’re all ooohing and aahing about our new-found lust for spamming our interstellar neighborhood.[2]

[0] Rich Dude Yuri Milner Wants 100-Million-MPH, Laser-Powered Satellites. Is That Too Much to Ask? | WIRED
[1] Kinetic bombardment – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
[2] Dan Hon is typing on Twitter: “BILLIONAIRES PUBLICLY ANNOUNCE PLAN TO BUILD HALF MILE WIDE 100 GIGAWATT ARRAY OF LASERS ASSURE POPULATION “NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT””

2.0 2016

It’s 2016. I used to collect Good News to remind us about how positive the current human condition was, but that all became a bit of hard work so instead we’ll go with the horror of our late-stage-surveillance-capitalism state. Chinese researchers have made a new police car that can scan criminals’ faces [0] which strikes me as not really understanding how face recognition technology works. Or how recognising faces works in the first place. You can’t decide to scan *only* criminals faces if you’re driving around because you need to know which faces are the criminal ones in the first place. Oh, Wall Street Journal. If only you’d tried a little bit harder. Good news, though: the computer vision system on this car can work at up to 75mph, in 360 degrees, with a 60 meter radius, and can recognise faces based on just three quarters of the face. Any of you who are tempted to make a joke about how all of those Chinese faces look the same can go and show yourselves out right now.

Of course you might not even need to recognise faces in the first place if there’s free municipal wifi. One of the things that lets networks like wifi work in the first place is knowing what a device is and being able to track it, handing it off from one access point to another access point. So The Atlantic is rightly worried that New York City’s free wifi might aid police surveillance[1] and that this might put low-income users’ privacy at risk, which is entirely true. It will also put everyone else’s privacy at risk. If only, thought Batman in The Dark Knight, there was some sort of city-wide network that could be used to track (most) people in realtime.

Bots are such a thing now that there are major platform APIs available to them[2] on most messaging services, so prepare to see the first panels submitted and attended by bots at SXSW next year.

One of the ads that I caught on Hulu the other day while catching up on TV (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. if you must ask, if only because the new Full Frontal with Samantha Bee wasn’t out yet) was for Boeing. TV ads for the military-industrial complex are always super interesting because they help you, well, See Like A Military Industrial Complex. Boeing’s one is called You Just Wait[4] (:31), showing you what the world of 2116 might look like if Boeing wins its bid to be appointed President of the World Council: hypersonic regional and global transport, a Mars colony (complete with space elevator) and beamed microwave satellite power. There’s a longer version (:180) called The Next 100 Years Of Flight Starts Here[4] which includes the requisite soaring choral/world drum music but in an accessible Western key and has a sequence where America is totally proud that it’s able to return to flight with American astronauts in an American crewed capsule launched on top of a new American rocket. It’s almost as if Donald Trump had a return-to-flight policy. Anyway, if you like those, you’d probably also like the equivalent videos from Lockheed Martin, which includes their own next-100-years video[5], their story about how they’re Engineering A Better Tomorrow[5]  by being Innovators[7]. The story about how Lockheed Martin is engineering a better tomorrow is notable for being from 2014, so is a bit behind the times by only talking about self-driving cars, tiny fusion reactors (arc reactors, right?), and the whole shtick about “a world of tomorrow, like something out of a movie” that smells of Opportunistic Movie Marketing Tie-In, and because it’s 2014, includes lots and lots of Curved Glass Transparent Screens With People Swiping Things, just like regular people at Stark Industries.

Lastly, a thing about how what makes the world go round isn’t the ceaseless new innovation, but the operations and maintenance that means we can rely on the new stuff[8]. Again this appears to fall in to some sort of classic human susceptibility for binary thinking where we can’t talk about one or the other and have to run to extremes, but also speaks to Simon Wardley’s observation on innovation or progress as distinguished phases performed by pioneers, settlers, and town planners[8].

[0] Chinese Researchers Invent New Police Car That Can Scan Criminals’ Faces – China Real Time Report – WSJ
[1] Will New York City’s Free Wi-Fi Help Police Watch You? – The Atlantic
[2] Messenger | Overview – Facebook for Developers
[3] You Just Wait – YouTube
[4] Boeing: The Next 100 Years of Flight Starts Here – YouTube
[5] Lockheed Martin – The Next 100 Years – YouTube
[6] Lockheed Martin: We’re Engineering a Better Tomorrow – YouTube
[7] Innovators – YouTube
[8] Bits or pieces?: On Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners and Theft.

OK. 3:25pm. Should probably go do something else now.

Best,

Dan