31 may. 2005

Steering Wheel Checks Alcohol Consumption

If the car doesn't start, you are too drunk to drive. That is the premise behind a $600 sensor that can be installed in a steering wheel or in gloves and will test a driver's skin to determine alcohol consumption.

Inventor Dennis Bellehumeur, 54, says his device prevents a vehicle from starting or running if the driver is over the legal alcohol limit.

The device's skin sensor makes it different from the "breath alcohol ignition interlock" that has been on the market for three decades. That device requires that a driver blow into an instrument that measures alcohol in the breath.

Bellehumeur, a real estate agent and deli owner in Wilton Manors, spent 12 years developing his sensor after his then-teenage son crashed into a utility pole while driving drunk and suffered minor brain damage.

"Thank God no one was killed. It was a real wake-up call. I wanted to do something," Bellehumeur said. "I hope one day I'll get a call from some guy saying 'I was drunk and could've killed someone, but because of you, I couldn't start my car'."

He received a patent this month and the sensor should complete testing this year, he said.

He would like it to become a standard feature on new vehicles, but James Frank, a research psychologist for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that may be difficult.

"I'm not sure the auto industry is prepared to accept that for cost reasons," he said. "Neither will the driving public because the majority of them don't drink and drive. We're not there yet."

Drunken driving killed an estimated 16,654 people last year, nearly 40 percent of the nation's total traffic deaths, according to agency projections released in April

30 may. 2005

Los adictos al correo lo miran antes de desayunar

Es lo primero que hacen cuando se levantan. Los adictos al correo electrónico lo miran antes incluso de haber tomado el desayuno. Y son más de lo que pudiera pensarse; de hecho, la mayoría de internautas de EEUU lo usa intensivamente, según una encuesta elaborada por America Online en colaboración con Opinion Research, que indica que la mayoría lo abre cinco veces al día.

Un 41% de los encuestados declaró que comprobar el correo es lo primero que hace nada más levantarse, antes incluso que tomar un café, y uno de cada cuatro usuarios dice que no podría estar sin e-mail más de tres días.

Además, un 77% de los participantes dijo tener más de una cuenta de correo. Seis de cada diez personas confesaron que consultan el correo electrónico incluso cuando están de vacaciones, mientras que el 47% accede en el trabajo, aunque esporádicamente.

El 23% lee los mensajes desde la cama, y doce de cada cien en mitad de una clase. Otros lugares curiosos donde se mira el correo, aunque en menor proporción, son la iglesia y el lavabo. La cuarta parte de los entrevistados comparte su cuenta de correo con sus esposos, hijos, amigos o compañeros de piso. En la encuesta participaron alrededor de 4.000 usuarios mayores de 18 años y residentes en veinte ciudades de EEUU.

Aquí, por estos lares, también somos bastante aficionados, como lo demuestra el hecho de que el número de españoles que usa el correo electrónico subió un 13,6% en abril. Así, hemos pasado de 4,7 millones de usuarios en abril de 2004 a casi 5,4 millones el mes pasado, según datos de Nielsen//NetRatings.

Crece, sí, nuestra madurez tecnológica; cada usuario realizó una media de once visitas a su correo electrónico en el citado período, lo que supone un incremento del 1,4% con respecto a idéntico mes de 2004. Los internautas emplearon una media de 53,5 minutos en intercambiar correos en los servicios de mensajería durante el pasado mes de abril, lo que supone que el tiempo medio de navegación se redujo en algo más de tres minutos en términos interanuales.

27 may. 2005

Nuclear-powered cellphone battery?

When your cellphone explodes you’re probably going to need a hazmat team in addition to an EMT, but researchers at the University of Rochester have developed a prototype for a new kind of battery that generates power by using silicon to capture electrons emitted from a radioactive gas (in this case, tritium, which is actually one of the least dangerous radionuclides out there). There’s already a company called BetaBatt which is working on ways to commercialize the technology.

26 may. 2005

La sonda espacial Voyager 1 se encuentra en la frontera final del Sistema Solar, luego de un viaje de 27 años.
La NASA anunció que la nave de exploración lanzada desde Cabo Cañaveral en Florida en 1977, se encuentra ahora a una distancia de 14.000 millones de kilómetros del Sol.
Haciendo honor a su nombre, Voyager (viajero) ha llegado más lejos en el Sistema Solar que ninguna otra sonda, llevando su mensaje a otros mundos.
La nave lleva una grabación que incluye saludos desde la Tierra en varios idiomas y piezas musicales que van desde Mozart hasta el cantante Blind Willie Johnson.

Más allá del Sol
"Voyager ha ingresado en la última vuelta de su carrera hacia los extremos del espacio interestelar", dijo Edward Stone, científico integrante del proyecto en el Instituto Tecnológico de California.

La sonda se acerca a una región del espacio llamada "zona final". En esta frontera última del Sistema Solar, el viento solar reduce su velocidad como resultado de los gases que rodean las estrellas.
"El viento solar es una corriente continua de partículas subatómicas, principalmente protones, electrones y neutrones y núcleos de helios que son expulsados por el Sol a gran velocidad", explicó el astrónomo Francisco Diego, del University College de Londres, a BBC Mundo.
Cuando las partículas llegan al límite del Sistema Solar, donde comienza el espacio interestelar, chocan con gases en una zona de colisión que forma una especie de burbuja en torno a nuestro sistema.
Voyager ya ha atravesado esa burbuja y sus detectores están captando intensos campos magnéticos.

Un mundo desconocido
Voyager tenía inicialmente una misión de cinco años, pero ha tenido un desempeño espectacular.
Y se espera que el viaje continúe. Puesto que los paneles solares no proporcionarían suficiente energía más allá de los planetas, la NASA incluyó tres generadores nucleares que se espera durarán otros 15 años.
Para entonces, el viajero mensajero de la humanidad habrá explorado otros rincones de nuestra galaxia, la Vía Láctea.

¿Qué encontrará Voyager más allá del espacio interplanetario, dominado por la influencia del Sol?
"Más allá de los planetas tenemos el espacio interestelar, que es el espacio entre las estrellas, que es mucho más tenue y desvanecido", señala Francisco Diego.
"Si salimos de la Vía Láctea y nos encontramos ya en el espacio intergaláctico, éste es el ambiente más vacío que se pueda imaginar uno, es un espacio con una densidad bajísima", agregó el experto.
La nave hermana del Voyager 1, la Voyager 2, fue lanzada un par de semanas después y se mueve en otra trayectoria. Se encuentra actualmente a una distancia de 10.400 millones de kilómetros.

En 2050 será posible crear copias de seguridad del cerebro

Científico futurista británico estima que para el año 2050 será posible cargar el contenido de un cerebro humano a un servidor externo. El servicio será especialmente relevante para transferir y conservar conocimientos, que así no se perderán con la muerte. DIARIO TI: Ian Pearson, autor de la predicción en cuestión, no es un simple adivino, sino un científico adscrito a British Telecom, una de las mayores compañías de telecomunicaciones del mundo. En círculos especializados, Pearson es considerado uno de los visionarios y futuristas más relevantes de Gran Bretaña. ´Es realista pensar que para el año 2050 podremos transferir los contenidos del cerebro a una máquina, de forma que no sea un problema para su empleador cuando usted muera´, declaró Pearson el periódico británico The Observer. El científico agrega que la oferta estará inicialmente limitada a a los consumidores más acaudalados, en tanto que el consumidor promedio deberá esperar hasta 2075 o 2080 antes de que la creación de copias de seguridad del cerebro sea un producto de consumo masivo, indica Pearson en la entrevista.

24 may. 2005

Light gun fires photons one by one

The first photon gun capable of firing single particles of light over optical fibres was unveiled on Tuesday. The breakthrough may remove one of the final obstacles keeping perfectly secure messages from being sent over standard telephone fibres.
Encryption techniques change each character in a message in a way that can be reversed by a receiver who possesses the relevant key. But sending the key to the receiver is just as troublesome as sending the message as it too can be intercepted - a problem known as key distribution.
Twenty years ago, North American physicists Giles Brassard and Charles Bennett outlined a way to send a key without anyone being able to eavesdrop. Their idea rests on the notion that a message sent using quantum particles -such as photons - is so fragile that measuring the photons changes their properties. So anybody listening in to a transmission would destroy it - which the sender and receiver would easily notice.
But so-called quantum encryption works only if the key is sent using individual photons, rather than the pulses of many photons that are used for communication today. But sending single photons is tricky.
Too many photons
In the last year, a number of companies have begun selling quantum encryption kits that create single photons by reducing the intensity of a laser beam so that it produces pulses each containing less than one photon, on average. But there always remains a small probability that any pulse will contain two or more photons.
This is a potentially serious weakness because a hacker could intercept the extra photons without the sender and receiver being any the wiser.
Now Andrew Shields and colleagues at Toshiba ‘s Cambridge Research Laboratory in the UK have developed a light-emitting diode (LED) that produces up to 1000 single photons per second - allowing a data transfer rate of 1 megabits per second.
And crucially, the photon gun works at the same light wavelength as commercial optical fibres - at 1.3 micrometers. “It could be commercially available within two to three years,” says Shields.
Exotic clusters
The device is essentially a standard LED made of gallium arsenide but containing a layer of quantum dots - exotic clusters of indium arsenide each containing just a few thousand atoms. In a conventional LED, electrons in the central layer combine with ‘holes’ - or absences of electrons - releasing a photon in the process.
In the new device, this recombination takes place only inside the quantum dots which emit photons of a wavelength similar to their size. So the size of the dots determines the wavelength at which the device operates. A masking layer then allows only the light from a single dot to escape, ensuring that the device emits only one photon at a time.
This device should finally close the security loophole in the current quantum encryption techniques. “We are in the process of building our own quantum encryption equipment,” says Shields.
“It will make the process of communicating using the quantum properties of light much more efficient,” notes Will Stewart, chairman of Innos, a silicon research and development company in the UK.
The Toshiba team unveiled the device at the Quantum Electronics and Laser Science Conference in Baltimore, US.

15 may. 2005

Human evolution at the crossroads - Genetics, cybernetics complicate forecast for species

Scientists are fond of running the evolutionary clock backward, using DNA analysis and the fossil record to figure out when our ancestors stood erect and split off from the rest of the primate evolutionary tree.
But the clock is running forward as well. So where are humans headed?
Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins says it's the question he's most often asked, and "a question that any prudent evolutionist will evade." But the question is being raised even more frequently as researchers study our past and contemplate our future.
Paleontologists say that anatomically modern humans may have at one time shared the Earth with as many as three other closely related types — Neanderthals, Homo erectus and the dwarf hominids whose remains were discovered last year in Indonesia.
Does evolutionary theory allow for circumstances in which "spin-off" human species could develop again?
Some think the rapid rise of genetic modification could be just such a circumstance. Others believe we could blend ourselves with machines in unprecedented ways — turning natural-born humans into an endangered species.

Present-day fact, not science fiction
Such ideas may sound like little more than science-fiction plot lines. But trend-watchers point out that we're already wrestling with real-world aspects of future human development, ranging from stem-cell research to the implantation of biocompatible computer chips. The debates are likely to become increasingly divisive once all the scientific implications sink in.
"These issues touch upon religion, upon politics, upon values," said Gregory Stock, director of the Program on Medicine, Technology and Society at the University of California at Los Angeles. "This is about our vision of the future, essentially, and we'll never completely agree about those things."
The problem is, scientists can't predict with precision how our species will adapt to changes over the next millennium, let alone the next million years. That's why Dawkins believes it's imprudent to make a prediction in the first place.
Others see it differently: In the book "Future Evolution," University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward argues that we are making ourselves virtually extinction-proof by bending Earth's flora and fauna to our will. And assuming that the human species will be hanging around for at least another 500 million years, Ward and others believe there are a few most likely scenarios for the future, based on a reading of past evolutionary episodes and current trends.
Where are humans headed? Here's an imprudent assessment of five possible paths, ranging from homogenized humans to alien-looking hybrids bred for interstellar travel.

Unihumans: Will we all be assimilated?
Biologists say that different populations of a species have to be isolated from each other in order for those populations to diverge into separate species. That's the process that gave rise to 13 different species of "Darwin's Finches" in the Galapagos Islands. But what if the human species is so widespread there's no longer any opening for divergence?
Evolution is still at work. But instead of diverging, our gene pool has been converging for tens of thousands of years — and Stuart Pimm, an expert on biodiversity at Duke University, says that trend may well be accelerating.
"The big thing that people overlook when speculating about human evolution is that the raw matter for evolution is variation," he said. "We are going to lose that variability very quickly, and the reason is not quite a genetic argument, but it's close. At the moment we humans speak something on the order of 6,500 languages. If we look at the number of languages we will likely pass on to our children, that number is 600."
Cultural diversity, as measured by linguistic diversity, is fading as human society becomes more interconnected globally, Pimm argued. "I do think that we are going to become much more homogeneous," he said.
Ken Miller, an evolutionary biologist at Brown University, agreed: "We have become a kind of animal monoculture."
Is that such a bad thing? A global culture of Unihumans could seem heavenly if we figure out how to achieve long-term political and economic stability and curb population growth. That may require the development of a more "domesticated" society — one in which our rough genetic edges are smoothed out.
But like other monocultures, our species could be more susceptible to quick-spreading diseases, as last year's bird flu epidemic illustrated.
"The genetic variability that we have protects us against suffering from massive harm when some bug comes along," Pimm said. "This idea of breeding the super-race, like breeding the super-race of corn or rice or whatever — the long-term consequences of that could be quite scary."

Environmental pressures wouldn't stop
Even a Unihuman culture would have to cope with evolutionary pressures from the environment, the University of Washington's Peter Ward said.
Some environmentalists say toxins that work like estrogens are already having an effect: Such agents, found in pesticides and industrial PCBs, have been linked to earlier puberty for women, increased incidence of breast cancer and lower sperm counts for men.
"One of the great frontiers is going to be trying to keep humans alive in a much more toxic world," he observed from his Seattle office. "The whales of Puget Sound are the most toxic whales on Earth. Puget Sound is just a huge cesspool. Well, imagine if that goes global."
Global epidemics or dramatic environmental changes represent just two of the scenarios that could cause a Unihuman society to crack, putting natural selection — or perhaps not-so-natural selection — back into the evolutionary game. Then what?

Survivalistians: Coping with doomsday
Surviving doomsday is a story as old as Noah’s Ark, and as new as the post-bioapocalypse movie “28 Days Later.”
Catastrophes ranging from super-floods to plagues to nuclear war to asteroid strikes erase civilization as we know it, leaving remnants of humanity who go their own evolutionary ways.
The classic Darwinian version of the story may well be H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” in which humanity splits off into two species: the ruthless, underground Morlock and the effete, surface-dwelling Eloi.
At least for modern-day humans, the forces that lead to species spin-offs have been largely held in abeyance: Populations are increasingly in contact with each other, leading to greater gene-mixing. Humans are no longer threatened by predators their own size, and medicine cancels out inherited infirmities ranging from hemophilia to nearsightedness.
“We are helping genes that would have dropped out of the gene pool,” paleontologist Peter Ward observed.
But in Wells’ tale and other science-fiction stories, a civilization-shattering catastrophe serves to divide humanity into separate populations, vulnerable once again to selection pressures. For example, people who had more genetic resistance to viral disease would be more likely to pass on that advantage to their descendants.
If different populations develop in isolation over many thousands of generations, it’s conceivable that separate species would emerge. For example, that virus-resistant strain of post-humans might eventually thrive in the wake of a global bioterror crisis, while less hardy humans would find themselves quarantined in the world’s safe havens.
Patterns in the spread of the virus that causes AIDS may hint at earlier, less catastrophic episodes of natural selection, said Stuart Pimm, a conservation biologist at Duke University: “There are pockets of people who don’t seem to become HIV-positive, even though they have a lot of exposure to the virus — and that may be because their ancestors survived the plague 500 years ago.”

Evolution, or devolution?
If the catastrophe ever came, could humanity recover? In science fiction, that’s an intriguingly open question. For example, Stephen Baxter’s novel “Evolution” foresees an environmental-military meltdown so severe that, over the course of 30 million years, humans devolve into separate species of eyeless mole-men, neo-apes and elephant-people herded by their super-rodent masters.
Even Ward gives himself a little speculative leeway in his book “Future Evolution,” where a time-traveling human meets his doom 10 million years from now at the hands — or in this case, the talons — of a flock of intelligent killer crows. But Ward finds it hard to believe that even a global catastrophe would keep human populations isolated long enough for our species to split apart.
“Unless we totally forget how to build a boat, we can quickly come back,” Ward said.
Even in the event of a post-human split-off, evolutionary theory dictates that one species would eventually subjugate, assimilate or eliminate their competitors for the top job in the global ecosystem. Just ask the Neanderthals.
“If you have two species competing over the same ecological niche, it ends badly for one of them, historically,” said Joel Garreau, the author of the forthcoming book “Radical Evolution.”
The only reason chimpanzees still exist today is that they “had the brains to stay up in the trees and not come down into the open grasslands,” he noted.
“You have this optimistic view that you’re not going to see speciation (among humans), and I desperately hope that’s right,” Garreau said. “But that’s not the only scenario.”

Numans: Rise of the superhumans
We’ve already seen the future of enhanced humans, and his name is Barry Bonds.
The controversy surrounding the San Francisco Giants slugger, and whether steroids played a role in the bulked-up look that he and other baseball players have taken on, is only a foretaste of what’s coming as scientists find new genetic and pharmacological ways to improve performance.
Developments in the field are coming so quickly that social commentator Joel Garreau argues that they represent a new form of evolution. This radical kind of evolution moves much more quickly than biological evolution, which can take millions of years, or even cultural evolution, which works on a scale of hundreds or thousands of years.
How long before this new wave of evolution spawns a new kind of human? “Try 20 years,” Garreau told MSNBC.com.
In his latest book, “Radical Evolution,” Garreau reels off a litany of high-tech enhancements, ranging from steroid Supermen, to camera-equipped flying drones, to pills that keep soldiers going without sleep or food for days.
“If you look at the superheroes of the ’30s and the ’40s, just about all of the technologies they had exist today,” he said.

Three kinds of humans
Such enhancements are appearing first on the athletic field and the battlefield, Garreau said, but eventually they’ll make their way to the collegiate scene, the office scene and even the dating scene.
“You’re talking about three different kinds of humans: the enhanced, the naturals and the rest,” Garreau said. “The enhanced are defined as those who have the money and enthusiasm to make themselves live longer, be smarter, look sexier. That’s what you’re competing against.”
In Garreau’s view of the world, the naturals will be those who eschew enhancements for higher reasons, just as vegetarians forgo meat and fundamentalists forgo what they see as illicit pleasures. Then there’s all the rest of us, who don’t get enhanced only because they can’t. “They loathe and despise the people who do, and they also envy them,” Garreau said.
Scientists acknowledge that some of the medical enhancements on the horizon could engender a “have vs. have not” attitude.
“But I could be a smart ass and ask how that’s different from what we have now,” said Brown University’s Ken Miller.

Medical advances as equalizers
Miller went on to point out that in the past, “advances in medical science have actually been great levelers of social equality.” For example, age-old scourges such as smallpox and polio have been eradicated, thanks to public health efforts in poorer as well as richer countries. That trend is likely to continue as scientists learn more about the genetic roots of disease, he said.
“In terms of making genetic modifications to ourselves, it’s much more likely we’ll start to tinker with genes for disease susceptibility. … Maybe there would be a long-term health project to breed HIV-resistant people,” he said.
When it comes to discussing ways to enhance humans, rather than simply make up for disabilities, the traits targeted most often are longevity and memory. Scientists have already found ways to enhance those traits in mice.
Imagine improvements that could keep you in peak working condition past the age of 100. Those are the sorts of enhancements you might want to pass on to your descendants — and that could set the stage for reproductive isolation and an eventual species split-off.
“In that scenario, why would you want your kid to marry somebody who would not pass on the genes that allowed your grandchildren to have longevity, too?” the University of Washington’s Peter Ward asked.
But that would require crossing yet another technological and ethical frontier.

Instant superhumans — or monsters?
To date, genetic medicine has focused on therapies that work on only one person at a time. The effects of those therapies aren’t carried on to future generations. For example, if you take muscle-enhancing drugs, or even undergo gene therapy for bigger muscles, that doesn’t mean your children will have similarly big muscles.
In order to make an enhancement inheritable, you’d have to have new code spliced into your germline stem cells — creating an ethical controversy of transcendent proportions.
Tinkering with the germline could conceivably produce a superhuman species in a single generation — but could also conceivably create a race of monsters. “It is totally unpredictable,” Ward said. “It’s a lot easier to understand evolutionary happenstance.”
Even then, there are genetic traits that are far more difficult to produce than big muscles or even super-longevity — for instance, the very trait that defines us as humans.
“It’s very, very clear that intelligence is a pretty subtle thing, and it’s clear that we don’t have a single gene that turns it on or off,” Miller said.
When it comes to intelligence, some scientists say, the most likely route to our future enhancement — and perhaps our future competition as well — just might come from our own machines.

Cyborgs: Merging with the machines
Will intelligent machines be assimilated, or will humans be eliminated?
Until a few years ago, that question was addressed only in science-fiction plot lines, but today the rapid pace of cybernetic change has led some experts to worry that artificial intelligence may outpace Homo sapiens’ natural smarts.
The pace of change is often stated in terms of Moore’s Law, which says that the number of transistors packed into a square inch should double every 18 months. “Moore’s Law is now on its 30th doubling. We have never seen that sort of exponential increase before in human history,” said Joel Garreau, author of the book “Radical Evolution.”
In some fields, artificial intelligence has already bested humans — with Deep Blue’s 1997 victory over world chess champion Garry Kasparov providing a vivid example.
Three years later, computer scientist Bill Joy argued in an influential Wired magazine essay that we would soon face challenges from intelligent machines as well as from other technologies ranging from weapons of mass destruction to self-replicating nanoscale “gray goo.”
Joy speculated that a truly intelligent robot may arise by the year 2030. “And once an intelligent robot exists, it is only a small step to a robot species — to an intelligent robot that can make evolved copies of itself,” he wrote.

Assimilating the robots
To others, it seems more likely that we could become part-robot ourselves: We’re already making machines that can be assimilated — including prosthetic limbs, mechanical hearts, cochlear implants and artificial retinas. Why couldn’t brain augmentation be added to the list?
“The usual suggestions are that we’ll design improvements to ourselves,” said Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute. “We’ll put additional chips in our head, and we won’t get lost, and we’ll be able to do all those math problems that used to befuddle us.”
Shostak, who writes about the possibilities for cybernetic intelligence in his book “Sharing the Universe,” thinks that’s likely to be a transitional step at best.
“My usual response is that, well, you can improve horses by putting four-cylinder engines in them. But eventually you can do without the horse part,” he said. “These hybrids just don’t strike me as having a tremendous advantage. It just means the machines aren’t good enough.”

Back to biology
University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward also believes human-machine hybrids aren’t a long-term option, but for different reasons.
“When you talk to people in the know, they think cybernetics will become biology,” he said. “So you’re right back to biology, and the easiest way to make changes is by manipulating genomes.”
It’s hard to imagine that robots would ever be given enough free rein to challenge human dominance, but even if they did break free, Shostak has no fear of a “Terminator”-style battle for the planet.
“I’ve got a couple of goldfish, and I don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’m gonna kill these guys.’ … I just leave ’em alone,” Shostak said. “I suspect the machines would very quickly get to a level where we were kind of irrelevant, so I don’t fear them. But it does mean that we’re no longer No. 1 on the planet, and we’ve never had that happen before.”

Astrans: Turning into an alien race
If humans survive long enough, there’s one sure way to grow new branches on our evolutionary family tree: by spreading out to other planets.
Habitable worlds beyond Earth could be a 23rd century analog to the Galapagos Islands, Charles Darwin’s evolutionary laboratory: just barely close enough for travelers to get to, but far enough away that there'd be little gene-mixing with the parent species.
“If we get off to the stars, then yes, we will have speciation,” said University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward. “But can we ever get off the Earth?”
Currently, the closest star system thought to have a planet is Epsilon Eridani, 10.5 light-years away. Even if spaceships could travel at 1 percent the speed of light — an incredible 6.7 million mph — it would take more than a millennium to get there.
Even Mars might be far enough: If humans established a permanent settlement there, the radically different living conditions would change the evolutionary equation. For example, those who are born and raised in one-third of Earth’s gravity could never feel at home on the old “home planet.” It wouldn’t take long for the new Martians to become a breed apart.
As for distant stars, the SETI Institute’s Seth Shostak has already been thinking through the possibilities:

  • Build a big ark: Build a spaceship big enough to carry an entire civilization to the destination star system. The problem is, that environment might be just too unnatural for natural humans. “If you talk to the sociologists, they’ll say that it will not work. … You’ll be lucky if anybody’s still alive after the third generation,” Shostak said.
  • Go to warp speed: Somehow we discover a wormhole or find a way to travel at relativistic speeds. “That sounds OK, except for the fact that nobody knows how to do it,” Shostak said.
  • Enter the Astrans: Humans are genetically engineered to tolerate ultra long-term hibernation aboard robotic ships. Once the ship reaches its destination, these “Astrans” are awakened to start the work of settling a new world. “That’s one possibility,” Shostak said.


  • The ultimate approach would be to send the instructions for making humans rather than the humans themselves, Shostak said.
    “We’re not going to put anything in a rocket, we’re just going to beam ourselves to the stars,” he explained. “The only trouble is, if there’s nobody on the other end to put you back together, there’s no point.”
    So are we back to square one? Not necessarily, Shostak said. Setting up the receivers on other stars is no job for a human, “but the machines could make it work.”
    In fact, if any other society is significantly further along than ours, such a network might be up and running by now. “The machines really could develop large tracts of galactic real estate, whereas it’s really hard for biology to travel,” Shostak said.
    It all seems inconceivable, but if humans really are extinction-proof — if they manage to survive global catastrophes, genetic upheavals and cybernetic challenges — who’s to say what will be inconceivable millions of years from now? Two intelligent species, human and machine, just might work together to spread life through the universe.
    “If you were sufficiently motivated,” Shostak said, “you could in fact keep it going forever.”

    13 may. 2005

    Tras la ruta de nuestros ancestros

    BBC.co.uk

    Quiénes somos y de dónde venimos, son las preguntas eternas para las que todavía no hemos encontrado respuestas definitivas.

    Estudios recientes indican que todos los seres humanos descendemos de un mismo antepasado africano que habitó el planeta hace 60.000 años.

    Según los expertos, rastrear el movimiento migratorio de ese ancestro podría ayudar a saber un poco más sobre nosotros, los que hoy habitamos la Tierra.

    Ésa es la meta que se ha establecido el llamado Proyecto Genográfico que lanzaron la revista National Geographic y la empresa informática IBM.

    12 may. 2005

    Self-replicating robots

    Marking what is surely the official launch of the robotic conquest of Earth, whizz kids (or aliens? Hmmm) at Cornell University have created small robots that can build copies of themselves, demonstrating that simple, mechanical self-reproduction is not unique to biology. Each robot consists of several 4-inch cubes with identical machinery, software, and electromagnets. Sure, they tried to prevent it, but living amongst us now are machines (read “children”) who duplicate by bending over and putting their top cube on the table; bend again, pick up another cube and put it on the first, then repeat until the robot has created a four-module replica in 2.5 minutes. The development team hopes their design principles could make long-term, self-repairing robots that could mend themselves in hazardous situations and space flights. Yeah, right. Oh, and did we mention they transfer data “through their faces?” Please bookmark this link for reference in the year 2029.

    5 may. 2005

    Performance-enhancing contact lenses

    Brian Roberts first tried on his newfangled contact lenses about an hour before the Orioles' last spring training game in Florida. He ripped three hits on a day his teammates groused about the difficulties of seeing the ball in the bright sun shining from a cloudless sky.

    A longtime wearer of contacts, Roberts needed no persuading afterward to keep the new lenses, even if they make him look like some wild-eyed creature from a science fiction film. After a monster start — he entered the week hitting .444 with five homers — they might have to be pried away from him.

    Plenty has been said about performance-enhancing drugs this spring. Well, get ready for a new wave of performance enhancers, only these do not cause side effects and are not subject to suspensions. Known as performance-enhancing contact lenses, they were designed to help hitters pick up the seams on the ball better and to protect the eyes from the sun.

    "They're almost like wearing sunglasses without wearing sunglasses," Roberts says. "I could tell such a huge difference right away that I was willing to give them a shot." Seven years in the making by Nike and Bausch & Lomb, the lenses — which will be known in the retail world as MaxSight — are so new they have made their way only into a few major league clubhouses so far.

    Roberts, the Orioles' leadoff hitter and second baseman, is the only player the Sporting News could confirm is wearing them in games. Reds center fielder Ken Griffey has tried them in batting practice and plans to break them out for real once he becomes more comfortable with them. Reds closer Danny Graves also is wearing them during pregame work. Red Sox pitchers Bronson Arroyo and Mike Timlin and Twins catcher Joe Mauer have been fitted.

    Tennis player Roger Federer and several D.C. United soccer players have agreed to try them. The University of Miami has 20 athletes on its football, baseball, tennis and track teams wearing them. The lenses also come in gray-green for golfers, and a set for night use is in the final stages of development.

    But for now, the version that's part orange and yellow with a hint of red — amber, to be precise — remains mainly in the testing stages for the pros.

    Roberts doesn't wear them all of the time, so don't credit his hot start solely to his high-tech eyewear. His amber set is of no use at night, when he plays most of his games. But none of the dozen or so players who had been fitted by last week has turned them back in.

    "It helps your eyes relax instead of squinting all the time," Graves says, "and that helps relax the rest of your body."

    Roberts and Graves have worn contact lenses for years, so their adjustment is not the same as it is for someone who never has worn glasses or contacts, such as Griffey.

    "It took me about 15 minutes to put them in the first time," Griffey says. "I'm still getting used to having something on my eyes."

    Even though Griffey has been a bit slow testing the amber lenses, he was counting the days until a Reds off day so he could try his gray-green set on the golf course. The gray-greens — used in stationary sports; the ambers are geared for speed sports — allow golfers to better differentiate the shades of green on a course.

    Golfer Justin Leonard has a pair of sunglasses with gray-green lenses, and he told Nike he is able to separate out every blade of grass. For baseball players, because amber blocks out blue light, "visual noise" to vision experts, red colors, such as a baseball's seams, are accentuated.

    There are medical advantages as well to wearing the lenses, which basically are soft contacts with a tint that has been scientifically developed. While light can leak through sunglasses, through the opening between the frame and the eyes, performance-enhancing contacts sit on the pupils and better protect them from the sun.

    Because baseball players are exposed to so much sunlight, some of them — Timlin, for one — develop a condition called pterygium that, essentially, causes a callus-type film to form on the cornea, leading to dryness in the eyes.

    "Most important, we want our athletes to continue to see their sport better and better for longer and longer," says Tony Chipote, a marketing field manager for Nike. "As soon as you start to lose your eyesight, the rest of your body will start to suffer. When you have those guys whose reflexes are cat-quick, they're that way based first on what they're seeing."

    When MaxSight hits the market this summer, the sets will be sold at vision care centers, not sporting goods stores. They will be available in prescription and nonprescription lenses and will cost about the same as regular contact lenses. They have a life of about three to four weeks, depending on how often they are worn.

    They're not for everyone. When Cardinals left fielder Reggie Sanders was told of their attributes, he rolled his eyes. "OK, sure," he said in a "What will they think of next?" tone.

    Shortstop David Eckstein says he is unlikely to try them simply because he can't stand the idea of putting something directly on his eyes. Slugger Albert Pujols turned down an invitation to try them.

    But plenty of others are excited at the prospects. When Nike made its spring training stop in Fort Myers, Fla., it found Twins outfielders Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones were "superexcited" about trying them. But before they could get checked out by a vision specialist, manager Ron Gardenhire was shooing the Nike reps out of the clubhouse because the team was almost ready to take the field for an exhibition.

    "We'll get back to them," says Chipote, who spent spring training visiting the clubs that train in Florida.

    While it seems hitters would gain a bigger advantage from the lenses, there's an edge or two that can be gained by pitchers. For one, pitchers can't wear sunglasses on the mound, so the performance-enhancing contacts give them a way to fight the sun's glare. Just as important, there can be an intimidation factor: Imagine looking out at a pitcher and seeing two bright amber eyes staring back.

    "They make you look kind of evil," Graves says. "Hitters might look at you like you're possessed."

    Until the night lenses are available, anyway. Those are expected to be lighter and a little less menacing-looking. Roberts, for one, also expects them to be much more popular.

    "Because so many games are played at night, I'm not sure if these will take off," he says of the amber version. "But the most popular ones would be the ones in the works for night games. There won't be a phenomenon until then."

    That will be a sight to see, through any colored lenses.

    3 may. 2005

    The Time Traveler Convention

    Convention events now start at 8pm for present-time attendees. It will start with lectures and/or music, and at 10pm the moment of truth will arrive. No need to modify any existing publicity efforts, as time travelers can come at 8pm or 10pm.
    We need your help for...

    The Time Traveler Convention
    May 7, 2005, 10:00pm EDT (08 May 2005 02:00:00 UTC)
    (event starts at 8:00pm)
    East Campus Courtyard, MIT
    42:21:36.025°N, 71:05:16.332°W
    (42.360007,-071.087870 in decimal degrees)

    What is it?

    Technically, you would only need one time traveler convention. Time travelers from all eras could meet at a specific place at a specific time, and they could make as many repeat visits as they wanted. We are hosting the first and only Time Traveler Convention at MIT in one week, and WE NEED YOUR HELP!

    Why do you need my help?

    We need you to help PUBLICIZE the event so that future time travelers will know about the convention and attend. This web page is insufficient; in less than a year it will be taken down when I graduate, and futhermore, the World Wide Web is unlikely to remain in its present form permanently. We need volunteers to publish the details of the convention in enduring forms, so that the time travelers of future millennia will be aware of the convention. This convention can never be forgotten! We need publicity in MAJOR outlets, not just Internet news. Think New York Times, Washington Post, books, that sort of thing. If you have any strings, please pull them.

    Great idea, I'd love to help! What should I do?

    Write the details down on a piece of acid-free paper, and slip them into obscure books in academic libraries! Carve them into a clay tablet! If you write for a newspaper, insert a few details about the convention! Tell your friends, so that word of the convention will be preserved in our oral history! A note: Time travel is a hard problem, and it may not be invented until long after MIT has faded into oblivion. Thus, we ask that you include the latitude/longitude information when you publicize the convention.

    You can also make an absolute commitment to publicize the convention afterwards. In that case, bring a time capsule or whatever it may be to the party, and then bury it afterwards.

    Can't the time travelers just hear about it from the attendees, and travel back in time to attend?

    Yes, they can! In fact, we think this will happen, and the small number of adventurous time travelers who do attend will go back to their "home times" and tell all their friends to come, causing the convention to become a Woodstock-like event that defines humanity forever.

    Unfortunately, we of the present (2005) don't have time travel, and so we only have one chance at observing the convention. If the time travelers don't leave us their secrets, we won't be able to go back in time and see our convention in all its glory unless it is publicized in advance.

    Isn't time travel impossible?

    We can't know for certain. The ancient Greeks would have thought computers were impossible, and the Phoenicians certainly wouldn't have believed that humans would one day send a spacecraft to the moon and back. We cannot predict the future of science or technology, so we can only make an effort and see if any time travelers come to our convention. If you would like to read more about time travel, check out our reading list.

    I'm from the future, and I'd like to attend!

    We're not sure how you're emailing us from the future, but we'd love to have you! Come as you are! No dress code whatsoever. We do request that you bring some sort of proof that you do indeed come from the future, and haven't just dressed like you do. We welcome any sort of proof, but things like a cure for AIDS or cancer, a solution for global poverty, or a cold fusion reactor would be particularly convincing as well as greatly appreciated.

    I'm from the present, and I'd like to attend!

    Great! We would also love to have you, especially if you have helped publicize. We request that you bring refreshments if possible, as we need to make this a great party for you and for the time travelers. RSVP at timetravelerconvention@gmail.com, and then show up at the designated place at the designated time! The East Campus Courtyard is in between the two red rectangles on this map. If you plan on attending, PLEASE check this page frequently for updates. UPDATE 5/2: Convention events start at 8pm now. Feel free to come at either 8pm, 10pm, or anytime in between. We'd recommend coming early as we hope to get some very interesting speakers and musicians for this time.

    I'm from the present, and I'd like to attend, but I can't!

    No worries! If time travel is invented in your lifetime, you can always come later. Even if it isn't, we'll have pictures and video up at this site within a week after the Convention.

    I've volunteered and helped publicize!

    Thanks! If you'd like to be included in the gallery, please send us a picture of your publicity effort by email at timetravelerconvention@gmail.com. You can also email us with any other questions you might have.

    This is neat!

    Thanks! If you like it, please consider linking to this page, and/or sending us an email. Also consider visiting Cat and Girl, one of the best comic strips out there. Also, check out Destination Day; they seem to have something very similar, and did it first (although our convention is inspired by Cat and Girl).

    Snacks and Drinks fund: (all donations will be spent on refreshments at the convention)