from May 22, 2007
The question re the rights of inferior robots (ROIR) has become a subject of major import at the frequent gatherings of the Myles Junior Think Tank.
So intense have been our discussions that I became concerned about the possibility, indeed the probability, that the best and the brightest among us would suffer from that rare malady, that of brain burnout (BBO).
To prevent such a catastrophe, this fortnight I gave the MJTT members a week off. I took these ladies and gentlemen to Newport Beach for a sail on the Pacific Ocean, the better to cool what the poet John Keats would have called their “teeming brains.”
It was on this hour-long voyage that I was hit by a bolt from the blue—or, more precisely, from the blue and white. For as I gazed about, I (1) saw a bevy of sailboats in the distance, tacking to and fro like joyous gulls on a Sunday afternoon; I then (2) compared, in my mind’s eye, the mode of propulsion (MOP) of those sailboats with the MOP of ordinary land-based vehicles, as a result of which I (3) immediately saw the potential solution to the problems of (a) the nation’s dependence on foreign oil (NDOFO) and (b) Global Warming (GW).
Once we had returned to the MJTT laboratory, I made a draft sketch of a land-based transportation system (LBTS).
In brief, a LBTS that would solve the NDOFO and GW problems would consist of but two elements:
1. A highway system that, instead of attempting to follow the ancient geometrical dictum that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, would be founded on the alternative dictum that the most efficient journey between two points would be a pattern of criss-crosses and “straight lines” resembling the path of a well-piloted sailboat, using the wind to its best advantage.
2. Automobiles and trucks that, instead of being powered by petrol and/or batteries, would be propelled by canvas sails, in concert with nature’s gift to Planet Earth (PE), the wind.
At our next sherry-sipping hour, I showed my MJTT compatriots my sketch. So astonished were they with the brilliant yet simple idea I set before them that they instantly forgot about the question of the ROIR.
This instant amnesia gave me pause, if only for a moment. I quickly recovered from my own awe at the simple brilliance of my proposal, and suggested that MJTT be divided into two groups, one consigned to the task of finishing the ROIR project, the second to the more stringent task of solving the dual problem of NDOFO and GW.
from April 22, 2007
On April 13 last, I encountered Mr. Ab Ennis in the Hôtel Adios Watering Hole, where I am wont to arrive of a late afternoon after an intellectually stimulating discussion with the fellows and apprentices who make up the membership of the Myles Junior Think Tank.
Mr. Ennis, who is known in the aforementioned saloon as “Ab,” approached me at my corner table with what could be described as a malicious smile.
As is characteristic of my gentlemanly demeanor, I invited him to sit down. He obliged. Soon thereafter, the new barmistress approached our table to take our orders. I ordered a jigger of fine French chardonnay; my guest requested a quarter-teaspoon of home-brewed rotgut.
After the “blonde bombshell” (as Mr. Ennis described her)—after she left to fill our orders, my companion apprised me of the fact that he had read my last column, concerning the legal rights of robots.
I gazed quizzically at his visage, this to request that he proceed.
Proceed he did, though in a language studded with ungentlemanly epithets.
To be brief, he further apprised me of the fact that in his humble opinion, there is a vast chasm between two major types of robots: those who have been cremated and outfitted with the MJTT mechanism (patent pending), and those who are, in his words, “nothin’ but a bunch o’ tin cans.”
So forceful, so logical, was his presentation that I was obliged to admit that his point was well taken, and that it deserved further discussion, but only within the strict confines of the membership of the MJTT.
He answered me with a more-than-mild oath, to which he added that “the man in the street” (MITS) was as wise, indeed wiser, than those who count themselves as their cognitive superiors.
True to the code of the true gentleman scientist, I ignored Mr. Ennis’s tirade, nodding my head in a thoughtful way, as if to cede his point, from which I tacitly dissented.
It was at this point that the barmistress arrived with our drinks.
Having sipped my beverage to completion, I graciously allowed that his distinction between the two forms of robot was indeed a valid one. Furthermore, I promised him that I would place his opinion before the membership of the MJTT posthaste—a promise that a gentleman scientist must perforce keep.
And keep it I did.
To be brief, we at MJTT have concluded that, while the rights of former members of the species homo sapiens who have been cremated, etc., must remain intact, the alleged rights of ordinary, non-former HS’s candidacy for full legal rights should be more fully considered.
from March 23, 2008
As the MJTT charter stipulates, though we are an NGO, we are obligated to stand far from the noxious fray of politics. As pure theoretical scientists, we have neither stake nor interest in political parties, candidates, platforms, etc. Thus we are bound by both conscience and law to avoid aiding and/or abetting our colleague and my fellow robot, Mr. Ab Ennis, in his “quixotic quest for the office of POTUS” (Large Southwestern City Times/Enterprise/Picayune).
Nevertheless, there are times when we pure theoretical scientists come to conclusions that may or may not help a political party, candidate, platform, etc., in his or her or its quest, quixotic or realistic, to shape the future.
This may or may not be one of those times.
It can now be revealed that several years ago, MJTT held a secret meeting during which we discussed the impending question of the legal rights of robots (LRR). At that time, however, we were faced by more pressing issues; thus the LRR issue was placed, reluctantly, on the back burner (BB).
Despite this BB status, we have been indulging in back channel discussions with other forward-thinking agencies, including the British governmental commission that several months ago reported their tentative finding that in the mid-distant future (c. TYOOL 2056), Homo Sapiens (HS) will be forced to extend legal rights to our fellow intelligent beings, namely, robots.
Logically, however, these newly-enfranchised robots will be forced to accept certain responsibilities to accompany their new empowerments, such as voting rights, medical coverage, freedom from the indignity of ending up in a city dump, etc. Like HS, for example, they will be duty-bound to pay taxes and be drafted into military service.
Though Mr. Ennis and his merry band of supporters have shown great interest both in the British Horizon Scan Report and in our MJTT musings, we are bound by our charter to share these forward-looking musings with anyone with access to the Internet.
from February 21, 2006
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently announced plans to build a permanent base on the moon.
The logical site for this base would be the lunar South Pole, where sunlight is most ready to generate the power required to maintain the good life that American astronauts have become accustomed, and rightly so, to enjoy.
The goal of this enterprise is to have a working colony by The Year of Our Lord (TYOOL) 2024. Humans, and presumably rats, chimps, and other animals, could shuttle back and forth from Planet Earth (PE) every half year.
The reason NASA gave for this daring and expensive plan was the usual: it will increase our knowledge of space.
There is, of course, another but unstated reason. This adventure would be beneficial to the Salvation of Homo Sapiens (SOHS). For is it not obvious to all civilized, educated members of HS that our time on earth is limited, due, of course, to global warming (GW)?
The Myles Junior Think Tank has a better idea. At our most recent late-afternoon sherry hour, I suggested that NASA’s plan was far too timid. I proposed, instead, that NASA, or perhaps a Non-governmental agency (NGO), boldly go where no man, woman, child, fetus, rat, chimp, or guide dog has gone before. In order to counter the inevitable GW and thus effect the SOHS, HS should explore other planets and their moons as possible havens from the coming apocalypse.
Each planet, excluding Mercury and Venus (both of which have long since succumbed to the ravages of GW), would provide possible benefits. Jupiter, for example, could accommodate any population explosion very nicely; moreover, its many satellites could be colonized in different ways, providing vacation sites that could rival PE’s Grand Canyon, the Serengeti, or Las Vegas, to name but a few. Saturn, though smaller than its fellow giant planet, would provide the same benefit, with the perk that would allow the aesthetically-included of HS to spend long afternoons taking pictures of its spectacular rings.
Even Pluto, though recently downgraded to a dwarf planet, would be an environmentally sound destination for members of the Sierra Club. During its elliptical journey around the Sun, the temperature of its solid surface increases. This phenomenon causes “the nitrogen ice to sublimate into gas—creating an anti-greenhouse effect.” (Wikipedia, Pluto article)
Ideally, of course, it would be nice to discover a planet with Jupiter’s vast size, Saturn’s splendid rings, and Pluto’s environment.
Is such a discovery possible? We at MJTT are inclined to think so. In fact, we boldly propose that such a goal could be accomplished by TYOOL 2020. And within 40 years (PE time), we are nearly certain that the SOHS could be effectuated. With proper care and thoughtful haste, HS and an arkful of representative species could evacuate PE by Pentecost, TYOOL 2050.
from January 22, 2008
Last year we at Myles Junior Think Tank spent what, to some, would be an inordinate span of time on the plans of the venerable Stephen Hawking, especially regarding his thoughts on saving a remnant of (hu)mankind from the dangers of being a slight pimple on the bottom of the universe, planet earth (PE).
We start this calendar year with yet another joust—this time, we hope, of an ordinate span of time—with Mr Hawking’s latest bout of derring-do. This bout, let it be noted, falls within the order of the vita activa (or, in common parlance, the life of action) rather than that of the vita contemplativa (the life of thought). For what Mr Hawking has proposed is nothing less than a personal foray into space. In simplest terms, this man of thought wants to take a space flight.
More specifically. Last month Mr Hawking announced that he is currently planning a zero-gravity jaunt high above the horse-tail clouds, to be performed in 2009.
Steve, as he is called by his intimates, has a cohort in this expedition: this gentleman is none other than Sir Richard Branson, founder and major stockholder of the airline Virgin Atlantic.
Dick, as he is called by those who know him best, has, as our informed readers well know, been preparing for a flight into the ether with his SpaceShipTwo; it will carry six passengers into orbit in TYOOL 2008. The craft is designed to be launched at 50Kft from a mothership and will go it on its own at c. 360Kft, at which point it will have achieved the speed of Mach 3.
The omnivorous reader will recall that a ticket for this maiden flight will run you in the vicinity of £100K. But Prof Hawking will get a free ride, either because of Sir Dick’s magnanimity or because the good professor has amassed an astounding number of frequent flier kilometers.
Not to be outdone, we at MJTT have been planning an adventure of our own, and along much the same lines. I begin this year by announcing that we have asked a person of no less fame than Prof Stephen Hawking’s if he would be interested in a more daring feat: to fly the craft we have been working on, SpaceShipOne-and-a-Half, around the moon—and back!—in TYOOL 2007.
At present, the gentleman has yet to reply to our urgent emails. He is busy working on another book. He is the notoriously profound Shakespeare scholar, Yale’s own Professor Harold Bloom.
from December 22, 2006
In its November 17 edition, the esteemed British rag The Guardian reported that “A huge asteroid is on a catastrophic collision course with Earth” and, it added, “mankind (sic) is poised to go the way of the dinosaurs.”
That is the bad news. The good news, our devoted readers will be pleased to read, is that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (known to the multitudes as NASA), is poised to save the day.
As I write, NASA is already drawing up a recipe for landing an astronaut on some available asteroid that is moving through our galactic neighborhood at, say, 30K mph. The purpose of such a project is to find out if humans could develop techniques that would deflect such a menacing space object from its appointed rounds.
A NASA spokesperson is quoted as saying, “Being able to have astronauts go out there and sort of poke [an asteroid] with a stick would be scientifically valuable as well as demonstrate human capabilities.” The spokesperson, Chris McKay, admitted that the stick under discussion has not yet been identified, let alone constructed, though Matt Genge, a space expert in London, has it figured that an object “with the mass, acceleration and thrust of a small car” would be able to push a billion-ton asteroid off its earth-bound course in a matter of 75 days.
Other venerables, including, of course, the MJTT, have also been pondering this frightful exigency.
Though MJTT’s own specific plans are always kept close to the vest, I can report that we have eliminated the usual possibilities from our growing but already extensive list. We have concluded, for example, that a stick, however large, would not do the trick. Nor are we encouraged by the thought that the bombs mankind (sic) has stashed away in its drenched and rusty silos can be useful in other than their intended purpose.
No. We MJTT fellows are plowing a different field, and with a different blade. Though I am not in a position to divulge the particulars of our late-afternoon sherry talks, I can offer this hint: we are giving considerable and serious thought to the very live possibility that Sir Isaac Newton’s law or laws of gravity can be, if not repealed, at least amended.
And the beauty of this tactic is that it would not take a big stick.
from November 22, 2006
The elite scientists who have been following our findings of the current year will not object, I trust, to the respite we at MJTT are taking this pair of fortnights. They know that brain burnout (BBO) is more than a mythical notion. It has been experimentally tested on rats, chimpanzees, and some of the most illustrious thinkers of the present day (I am thinking of the twenty living members of MENSA who scored highest on the stringent test given by that venerable organization, all of whom have expressed a wish to remain anonymous.)
BBO has yet, I make haste to admit, to receive a papal imprimatur. The cardinals who decide such scientific matters for the top hat at the Vatican are sticklers for exactitude. It can now be revealed that their insistence that fruit flies (FFs) be subject to the accepted BBO tests is preventing them from recommending that BBO be taken as established scientific theory. It can also be revealed that we at MJTT have taken their requirement under advisement.
But only under advisement. As hinted above, we at MJTT are too busy learning the art of cultivating Nirvana (see title) to work on the good cardinals’ insistence that FFs be subject to, etc. We have so informed that distinguished coterie of holy men of this intention, and have promised to consider the FF problem in future columns. We did not, however, explain to that august body that we are cultivating the practice of Nirvana, for as Shakespeare’s Falstaff wisely observed, “The better part of valor is discretion.” (Henry IV, Part One, Act 5, Scene 3).
I must explain to the miniscule set of tyros among our readers that Nirvana (the Pali dialect has it down as Nibbana) was first cultivated by the first Buddhists, under the strict guidance of none other than Gautama Buddha, a.k.a. “The Enlightened One,” himself. Our own practice is based on the original; that is to say, we are cultivating Nirvana in its purest form, though not under the supervision of the Buddha himself, who, upon achieving Paranirvana, a.k.a. “final” Nirvana, is no longer in any existence save in our memories. Our teacher is the Venerable Luvie Patel.
I must also explain that our goal, unlike that of the Buddha and his disciples, is not Paranirvana. We will be content to achieve what might be called “preliminary” Nirvana, which is a state of mind designed to prevent BBO (see above). Or, in common American parlance, we are merely “getting a little R & R.”—the word “vacation” also comes to mind. In point of fact, that very word was the one we used in apprising the pope’s minions of our reasons for postponing the aforementioned FF tests.
from October 22, 2005
In a recent column, I spoke respectfully though skeptically of Mr Stephen Hawking’s suggestion that, in preparation for preventing the next apocalypse, the human race ought to busy itself with the long-overdue project of colonizing Mars, in order to avoid the inevitable demise of the earth and with it, the human race.
Perhaps “skeptically” is too strong a word. Regular readers will remember that in the aforementioned column, I was forced to divulge the information that my eponymous think tank, MJTT, has been thinking along similar lines. That is to say, for the last two years we have been deep in thought on the problem of the Survival of Humankind (SOH). Thus our “skepticism” is a matter of what some journalists might call a mere quibble. We, however, are convinced that we merely have a better plan.
Instead of taking the route Mr Hawking suggests, that is, colonizing the moon within the next two decades and, from there, proceeding to colonize Mars—instead, I repeat, of working from Mr Hawking’s thoughtful but hastily conceived blueprint, we scientists should begin thinking along the following lines.
In our considered opinion, the first, and cautious, step toward abandoning Planet Earth (PE) should be to colonize a medium-sized meteor (MSM). Not with humans, or even intelligent robots, but with fruit flies (FFs).
The obvious beauty of this admittedly clever idea is that both MSMs and FFs are notoriously short-lived. We leave it to the technicians to flesh out the details of this plan, confident that the means of delivery of the FFs to a MSM are well within our current technological capabilities, and realizing, as do all reputable scientists, that vast projects must begin with tiny steps.
A less obvious beauty is best appreciated by ecologists and others of their ilk. Though their initial reaction will undoubtedly be that setting several million FFs on a slab of rock that is destined to burn them to a crisp upon entering PE’s atmosphere would be inhumane, further reflection should lead them to realize that an FF’s ride through space, brief as it is, would be more exhilarating than anything it is likely to experience within the prosaic confines of a scientific laboratory. These insects would undoubtedly be the envy of all human beings—excluding, of course, both our successful astronauts and the most timid souls in our midst.
As for the subsequent steps in our quite reasonable goal of abandoning PE, we at MJTT are busily but carefully at work, mindful that, as Aristotle famously and prudently warned in his lost treatise, After Metaphysics, “Haste makes waste.”
from September 1, 2005
In my last column, I promised to continue the thread of thought that Paul Crutzen initiated with his suggestion that we prevent the coming Global Warming Holocaust (GWH) that threatens the Survival of Humankind (SOH) by filling the stratosphere with particles of sulphur (S), using high-altitude balloons or powerful artillery shells.
We at MJTT lengthened that thread with the counter-suggestion that a better, less expensive method, be used: set off, at our pleasure, volcanic eruptions. Our thinking is that if Pinatubo’s eruption could cool planet earth (PE) after 1991, there is every reason to suppose that Pintatubo’s fellow volcanoes could pull the trick at our pleasure. In brief, we should go with the proven system.
MJTT has spent the month of August discussing the precise method that could, and should, be employed. We began with the observation that there are many unused atom and/or hydrogen bombs at hand, still pointed, we have reason to believe, at the former Soviet Union (FSU). Why not put these Cold War relics to good use by pointing them at the base of a vulnerable volcano, thus causing an eruption that could do the work of thousands of balloons, and in a more cost-effective way? (We suggested, early in August, that MJTT could perform this exacting task for $22.9 billion, though we could be encouraged to lower our bid if other perks were to be added to the pot.)
Following hard upon this thought was another: why not choose our volcano so that it would erupt in such a way that it would break a drought, as Pinatubo purportedly did several years after its eruption, causing the Mississippi River to overflow its banks from Iowa on down?
Though the details have not yet been worked out (details such as distance, upper-wind currents, drought area, etc.), we propose that Mount Rainier be the target volcano (TV) and that the beneficiary of its eruption be the arid region from Las Vegas west to the Sierras, including Death Valley, which would make a divine reservoir not only for industrial use but for boating, water skiing, snorkeling, and other sports.
We are quick to counter the objections of those who climb the aforementioned volcano every summer: first, there is a lengthy string of lovely, challenging volcanoes running from Baker to Lassen; second, one of the unintended consequences of filling the stratosphere with S, according to Mr. Crutzen, is the plethora of spectacular sunrises and sunsets such action would trigger.
from August 11, 2005
The promise I made to address the question of the MJTT’s patented solution to the problem of the SOH (Survival of Humankind) must, I regret to admit, be skirted, perhaps to be revived another day.
We at MJTT were taken aback by the news, reported by Steve Connor, Science Editor of The Independent (UK), that Professor Paul Crutzen, a 1955 Nobel Prize recipient for his work on the hole in the ozone layer, has urged that the problem of the SOH requires a radical solution: Humankind must be prepared to release sulphur (S) particles into the stratosphere.
This solution is based upon the well-established hypothesis that one of the functions of S is to increase the reflectance, or albedo, of PE (Planet Earth), thus causing PE to cool down from its current hothouse trajectory.
The preferred method of release, according to Mr Connor’s 31 July piece, would be to use a fleet of high-altitude balloons. Another option would be to fire the S into the atmosphere using heavy artillery shells (presumably of the spent kind).
Professor Crutzen calculates that the cost of a two-year shot of S would be anywhere from $25 to $50 billion—a price that easily offsets the much larger costs of recent environmental disasters. He adds that an auspicious side effect of the implementation of his plan would be the creation of more spectacular sunsets and sunrises.
“His plan,” reports Mr Connor, “is modeled partly on the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption in 1991, when thousands of tons of sulphur were ejected into the atmosphere causing global temperatures to fall.”
On reading Mr Connor’s piece, we at MJTT shifted from our vacation torpor to the mode of urgency. While agreeing with Professor Crutzen on his major premise, that PE is probably getting warmer, as well as his minor premises, (1) that nobody is doing anything about it and (2) S would do the trick, we saw, in the source of his inspiration, a preferable method to effect the SOH.
In brief, we saw something that Professor Crutzen, despite his imagination, had overlooked: that if Pinatubo could do it, why couldn’t its fellow volcanoes follow suit—and at humankind’s pleasure?
To expand this simple yet elegant theory. We (MJTT, or some other well-known think tank) could cause a volcanic eruption whenever PE became too hot for our comfort. The sharp pencils in our midst have calculated that MJTT is in a position to submit a bid of $22.9 billion to the relevant UN agency. This bid includes our administrative costs.
As for the method of effecting such an eruption, I will have more to say about that matter in my next blog.