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Why Elon Musk’s Hyperloop is a big deal

If you’ve been keeping up with the news lately you’ve probably seen a headline or two about some Hyperloop thing right? It seems like Elon Musk is making headway in so many industries that it’s hard to keep up with. SOOoooo what’s all the “hype”(rloop) about? I’m glad you asked. Hyperloop one started with the idea that we could all be traveling in high-speed vacuumed sealed tubes in the future much like the Jetsons. This is amazing because it would allow us to travel really long distances in fairly short amounts of time. One of Hyperloop’s videos even said something like “If you could travel 300 miles in 30 minutes where would you live?” Think about that, you could work in a different state if you wanted! Probably the most exciting thing about it can be captured in this quote directly from the Hyperloop website.

“Hyperloop systems will be built on columns or tunneled below ground to avoid dangerous grade crossings and wildlife. It’s fully autonomous and enclosed, eliminating pilot error and weather hazards. It’s safe and clean, with no direct carbon emissions.”

Efficient, safe, environmentally friendly, and this thing can travel at airliner speeds the only thing better would be teleportation! Could I get anymore onboard this train…I mean Hyperloop? So the main reason you’re hearing more about it on the news lately is because they successfully tested shooting a transportation pod down this tube and it was able to reach a speed of 192mph! Check out the video below.

It’s because of this test that they can now move onto the next phase of commercialization. Thenextweb.com reports that Hyperloop plans on having three systems in production somewhere around the world by 2021. Now for those of you thinking that 200mph isn’t all THAT fast, it’s important to note these are still early testing and they do expect the speeds to get much higher so we have something to look forward to. All I can say is, what a time to be alive. Let me know what you think about the Hyperloop in a comment below! Love it, hate it, I want to know why!

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Scientific literacy is more important than ever!

For those of you who don’t know, I live in the United States. In this country our President believes climate change is a Hoax, celebrities believe and teach the world is flat, and more conspiracy theories are popping up every day; Science literacy is becoming one of the biggest issue we’ll face as a country. Some might be frighten by the term but it doesn’t have to be something that inspires fear in us, in fact becoming science literate can be very empowering. What being scientifically literate means that we look at things around us with healthy skepticism and learn to question things in a way that discovers the truth. We do this easy enough as children when we start jumping on the bed after being told not to, we question “Well why shouldn’t I jump? It’s fun after all!” eventually we lose our footing, jump too far, go too high, and we propel ourselves off the bed onto the much less inviting floor or piece of furniture and sustain an injury. By going through this process we find that yes jumping on the bed is indeed fun but there can be serious consequences, like gaining a new bruise or scrape so our future jump sessions (if we continue to pursue them for fun’s sake) are done more cautiously to minimize chance of injury. This process is how we learn and more and more people are willing to read memes, or click-bait articles (I’m guilty of this), and national-inquire-like webpages and take it as the gospel without ever questioning it. How ridiculous that we could so easily allow ourselves to align our thought with something that didn’t have substantial proof to back it up. My favorite Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson explains it best in this short video:

Our education system stifles curiosity by teaching to test, we allow profit-driven companies to push their “standardized testing” down our children’s throats while their creativity and curiosity are suppressed. A company in business will always be in business for the main purpose of creating a profit, if they make money each time parents have to pay for their child to take the test what will the company want to do? Think of all the great minds being silenced or hushed because our teachers our overburden by the pressure of producing good test-takers instead of cultivating a healthy curiosity. In a country where we have “alternate Facts” I think our populace really needs to look in the mirror and ask, do we really want to become like the film Idiocracy? Luckily there are many pioneers that are working tirelessly to combat this emerging anti-intellectual disease (AKA the real zombie apocalypse), check out this Kickstarter to help cultivate curiosity and teach using video games led by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Big Red Button Entertainment, and more!

Check it out here

It’s worth noting that I’m in no way involved with this project and will not profit from its success, I simply think it’s a great project and a potential solution or aid to making America smart again. If you’re reading this I’d highly encourage you check it out yourself and if you think it’s a good idea share it. Getting back to the issue at hand, Science is a tool for discovering truth so when people say things like “we didn’t go to the moon”, “GMOs are bad”, “Vaccines cause autism” and more and more people would rather believe that than take the necessary time to learn the reasons why those things are not true, we have a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on the GMO side before but I’ve since looked at the science myself and now I’m not against GMOs, I’m more concerned now about the morality of what some of the companies do with the technology (which IS the conversation we should have), but the ability to Genetically modify crops is an astounding innovation that without it, the world would be facing some serious hunger pains, vitamin deficiencies, and much more. So whether you decide to start reading more, watching more educational shows, or even taking up a free science class, the more we can do to educate ourselves (and eventually others) the better off we’ll be as a society because we will be empowered with a mind trained to discover truth and lies.

featured image from: http://lvsct.org/

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Is Artificial Intelligence good or bad? (Part 1)

In my review about Speaker for the Dead I briefly mentioned the artificial intelligence that accompanies Ender by the name of Jane. There are so many elements to consider when thinking about A.I.; does it already exist, will it create a utopia, will we all be annihilated? Some people think it’ll be the most extraordinary advance to change our lives since the industrial revolution, some think it’ll be the end of humanity as we know it, others still (like myself) are optimistically cautious. Each view holds some merit, especially since Moore’s law (the fact that computing power doubles every two years) has held true for over fifty years. Anything advancing that quickly demands our attention. The moral implications as we hand over decision making processes off to machines are astounding, the automation of killing people in certain military drones is quickly becoming a reality, and the displacement of jobs for the future is also a concrete wall that we’re speeding towards and there are no brakes.

A prime example of someone who believes our moral values are more important now than ever is Zeynep Tufekci. In her Ted Talk from 2016, she makes the case for human morals being more important than ever in a world where we are handing over more and more decision making processes to algorithms and automation we don’t entirely understand.

 

Zeynep begins with a great anecdote asking whether or not a computer can tell if a person is lying (her boss was asking her because he was cheating on his wife). This raises an interesting question on many levels; 1st can machines detect a lie, 2nd if they can then can they too also lie? Ponder on that for a moment, if a machine could learn that humans sometimes lie to avoid an undesired response could it then too not incorporate what it learned and use it itself? When we think about A.I. we need to consider that until this point machines and computers only had the capacity to do what they were told; humans maintained control. There’s always a person plugging in numbers into a calculator, there’s a person hitting the send button on that Facebook message, there’s a person behind the steering wheel pressing the gas or the brakes when needed. Although we all know we as humans aren’t perfect, we can count on (most) humans to act guided by a sound moral compass. Are we ready to trust machines with the same moral decisions?

A question I’ve pondered a lot lately is if a self-driving car kills someone then does their existence make roadways less safe than human drivers? An interesting article by Business Insider states, “A 2014 Google patent involving lateral lane positioning (which may or may not be in use) followed a similar logic, describing how an AV might move away from a truck in one lane and closer to a car in another lane, since it’s safer to crash into a smaller object.” Can we safely allow A.I. to make life altering decisions for us? How do we set acceptable limits? Zaynep argues that we don’t really have any bench marks or guides for making decisions in complex human affairs. Basically we’re not sure how an A.I. would make its’ decisions, and we don’t like what we don’t know. Zeynep also mentions “Machine Learning” unlike regular programming where its given detailed instructions on how to respond to certain scenarios, machine learning gives the computer tons of information which it then takes and uses to learn. For example, let’s say you show a program one hundred pictures of dogs, all kinds of dogs; it’ll analyze every picture and start to learn the features of a dog. Our programs do this so well that if you later showed it a picture of a cat it would tell you that the picture is “not a dog” if asked. Now that’s a REALLY basic summary but you get the picture (see what I did there?).

This to me is incredibly interesting because I’m one of those people sitting on the fence about A.I., I definitely see the appeal and become excited thinking about all the cures for disease, the technology we could further develop, and how much further we could get in our exploration of the universe if only we had systems like A.I. in place helping to do the research. In that same breath, I also see how giving these machines the ability to make probabilistic decisions in a way we don’t quite understand is worrisome, especially if these systems are put in place for military weapons, transportation systems, and even food and water filtration systems. It’s either a utopia or dystopia…great.

Another consideration is that although the computers will make decisions in ways we may not understand, it still does so using information we give it. Zaynep points out that these systems could pick up on our biases, good or bad. According to her, researchers on Google found that women were less likely than men to be shown job ads for high-paying jobs and searching for African-American names is more likely to bring up ads suggesting criminal history even when there is none. So what kind of future do we want to build? Are we unknowingly making A.I. with the same prejudices we have as a species? What further implications will that have?

All this is great speculation but are we even close enough to developing A.I. to be worried about it? Well, kind of. A blog post by nvida does a pretty good job breaking it down. The basic rundown is currently we’ve been able to program machines and computers to do specific tasks better than humans. This ability is classified as narrow A.I. and includes tasks like playing checkers or facial recognition on Facebook. Simple programs that once it knows the “rules” can execute nearly perfect. The next great step forward was machine learning, this is what Zaynep was referring to when instead of hand coding programmers use algorithms to help machines dissect information which they then use to make their calculated “best” decision. As we discussed earlier though, depending where that initial pool of data came from, there could be bias and even racism “programmed” into the machines unintentionally.

All great things worth considering and I want to know what YOU think about A.I. Are you for it or against it and why? Leave a comment below and I’ll see you on the next Part of Is Artificial Intelligence Good, bad, or neither?

 

*Featured image from http://mirrorspectrum.com/behind-the-mirror/the-terminator-could-become-real-intelligent-ai-robots-capable-of-destroying-mankind#

 

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Centrifugal force space stations closer than you think

So I wrote a review on what I thought about Ender’s Game here and one thing I mentioned is some of the technology and science that the book and movie showcased. Of course if you read the title you probably guessed that we’re talking about, the battle school space station and how it creates artificial gravity using Centrifugal force. Before I get into this, let me preface this blog by saying Ender’s Game is in no way the first Science fiction story to talk about or use artificial gravity let alone the Centrifugal force method of creating said gravity BUT it was the first time I saw it and started taking an interest in it.

I think one of the simplest ways to explain centrifugal force is with an experiment we did in elementary school with a bucket of water (do they still do experiments in elementary school or am I dating myself?). Does anyone else remember taking that bucket of water and spinning it over your head in a circle as fast as you possibly could? Did anyone else let go and hit someone with the bucket? Me either but what I do remember is that when I spun the water over my head not a drop fell out of the bucket as long as I spun it fast enough. That’s because spinning it in a circle like that forced all the water to stay at the bottom of the bucket, basically the force I created spinning that bucket was an artificial gravity keeping the water on the “floor” of the bucket. If you want more information on Centrifugal force click here, more in depth and scientific.

Just like the water in the bucket, battle school in Ender’s Game would’ve been spinning in a circle and the people on it would be like the water in the bucket, keeping their feet on the ground by the force of the spinning motion. Of course scientists have been thinking of ways to create artificial gravity in space for a while now and frankly, it’s something we’ll need to figure out if we want to travel further into space since the human body loses a lot of bone density if there is no gravity. Well it turns out NASA has been researching this problem for some time now, since at least April 2005 to be exact. In its heading NASA Gives Artificial Gravity a New Spin (got to give props to the pun) they talk about how they were basically putting test subjects on a bed to simulate weightlessness, and some of them would get spun for an hour a day at a force great enough to generate 2.5 times as much gravity as Earth. The purpose of the tests of course is to see just how much less bone deterioration occurred in the test subjects who experienced the gravity. Pretty darn neat right?

You can see here that test subjects might find themselves feeling a little down (see what I did there?) Click the picture for the whole story from NASA.

 

Okay but that was back in 2005 right? Is there anything related to centrifugal space stations that are more …recent? As a matter of fact there is! According to an article written by Dailymail.co.uk, suspiciously also in April 10 years later, there is a company called United Space structures that wants to create the first spinning station that I’m sure will turn some heads (cough cough). Basically they want to make a small version first as proof on concept (which they claim can be done in 12 months) and then they would get started on their final design which would be 330ft in diameter and 1,310ft long. As soon as production starts it would only take 30 years and $300 billion dollars, which in all seriousness doesn’t seem that bad considering what it accomplishes.

muchroom station

www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3030087/Could-300-billion-space-mushroom-replace-ISS-Giant-rotating-station-create-artificial-gravity-astronauts.html

At 1,310ft long it’s not just a Mushroom looking station, it’s a muchroom one…(I hear the crickets now)

Basically what I’m trying to say is Ender’s Game battle school (or at least a space station that generates gravity like it) is not too far off in the future, and if that doesn’t excite you all I can say is Geez (as in Gee forces :P)

Featured image came from

https://pics-about-space.com/battle-damaged-space-station-gravity?p=3#img4700285539864871137

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My first blog post wasn’t first

So apparently I circumvented the “first blog post” by not introducing myself …I beg your pardon dear reader(s). My name is Mauricio, owner of Scienceislyfe. My intention with this is to write about Science fiction books and movies I digest and let you know my thoughts. Although I’ll probably talk about plot, my main focus will in all likely hood be the technology and science in the books and movies.

I also want to talk about advances in science that I find interesting (that could be a broad range). I may even write a section that talks about science and politics so you know which candidates or policies are helping advance or hinder humanities advancement in sciences. My number one goal is to hopefully awe and inspire anyone reading these posts to become more interested (and maybe involved) in science. The more we learn the better all our lives will be.

So sit back and enjoy the reading, live a little and click a little and hopefully every time you visit, you’re a little smarter.