As a science fiction writer I regularly scan twitter and some of the news sites for the latest developments and discoveries in science. You never know what might inspire, or weave itself into a story at some point. So I thought I might trial a monthly blog on the things that have tweaked my interest. They will be an eclectic mix. They will not be in any order, or even necessarily what might be considered the most important, just what has caught my eye. So here we go:
A New Homonid:
As a zoology student I was fascinated by evolution and part of my studies was human evolution. At that time it was dominated by the Leakeys and every new bone discovered seemed to be a new species. But this it is the real thing. In a cave in South Africa 15 skeletons of the, now named, Naledi humans were discovered. It is assumed they are about two to three million years old, although as yet no dating information has been released. They were about five tall and had a small brain about the size of a large orange and much of their body was ape like. However they walked upright and had legs arms and feet that were much more human like.
Robots and AI taking over your job
This has been one of the real science discussion points over the month, again. Richard Hawkins has waded in once more saying we should be concerned how this might pan out in the not so distant future. As it happens I have discussed this in past blogs (see ‘Stephen Hawking and artificial intelligence‘, ‘Robots – will they make us lazy‘ and ‘What happens when robots and machines are smarter than us‘). My own view is yes we need to be aware (but how will we not be?) of the possibilities. Also, the AI cat is out of the bag. Human society will adapt as it has always done. Looking further ahead I see a blurring of the lines between biological and machine intelligence (surely intelligence is intelligence?).
Buzz Aldrin and going to Mars
Buzz Aldrin entered into the ongoing to Mars debate on the side of a one way mission (at least to start with). Slightly more concerning for me is that he told US senators “In my opinion, there is no more convincing way to demonstrate American leadership for the remainder of this century than to commit to a permanent presence on Mars,” Surely this is an exciting opportunity for all the human race. Given the cost and what will be involved why not a global mission?
Again I’ve blogged before on this – ‘Rosetta, Mars and all that‘. I find it slightly strange that people are already signing up to go including a twelve year old girl. I would have thought that if a twelve year old was serious about wanting to go on a one-way mission to Mars that would be the best reason for not choosing her.
The idea of a hypersonic aircraft emerged again. One of the possible designs is the European designed Lapcat II which would fly at over 5,000 mph and could make the journey from Brussels to Sydney (not sure why Brussels?) in 2hrs 55 mins (seems very precise – presumably not including being kept in a holding pattern for half an hour). It will be powered by a pre-cooled air-turbo ramjet and could be in service by 2030, apparently. I seem to remember being here before, in the 1980s with the ‘Hotol’ space plane?
Too thick to talk to aliens
Actually, Dr Nathalie Cobrol from Seti said ‘that humans are not advanced enough to read messages from aliens, if indeed they are sending them.’ Not a new argument I know. She goes on to say ‘If there is a civilisation out there that is only 1,000 years older than we are, who knows what type of technology, or what type of process, they’ve put into communicating with others.’ Apparently she hinted that we should be looking at more advanced techniques (whatever those are?)
However I’m not sure we should worry, any scan of youtube will show you that they are already here.
Latest images from pluto
The NASA probe ‘New Horizons’ has now started a year long process of beaming back images of Pluto and Charon, it’s largest moon. These really are spectacular in clarity as well as in what they are revealing such as mountains of water-ice. Well worth a look.
I’m not sure it qualifies as a scientific discovery but apparently more people are killed taking selfies than by sharks. I wonder if anyone has taken a selfie with a shark?
As always comments and ideas are welcome.