The James Webb Space Telescope

Space wise, nothing has got me more excited that a dog with a stick than the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Originally planned to launch in 2007 at a cost of $1 billion the most powerful space-based telescope has had to overcome many set backs and runaway costs to get to its current launch date of 2021 at an estimated cost of $9.66 billion. With a delay of 14 years and costing 9x the original estimate, you would hope this shiny piece of tech is going to be worth the wait and expand our knowledge of the universe…and make no mistake, it most certainly will.

The JWST is the spiritual successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which originally launched in 1990, is coming to the end of its operational life. JWST will greatly surpass the capabilities of its predecessor and will deepen our understanding on the Universe and the origins of life. With a primary mirror size of 6.5m, the JWST is going to be able to see further back in time and gather light at a greater resolution than anything previous.

The JWST has four primary tasks:

  • First Light & Reionisation: JWST will be a powerful time machine with infrared vision that will peer back over 13.5 billion years to see the first stars and galaxies forming out of the darkness of the early Universe.
  • Assembly of Galaxies: JWST’s unprecedented infrared sensitivity will help astronomers to compare the faintest, earliest galaxies to today’s grand spirals and ellipticals, helping us to understand how galaxies assemble over billions of years.
  • Birth of Stars & Protoplanetary Systems: JWST will be able to see right through and into massive clouds of dust that are opaque to visible-light observatories, like Hubble, where stars and planetary systems are being born.
  • Planets & Origins of Life: JWST will tell us more about the atmospheres of extrasolar planets, and even perhaps even find the building blocks of life elsewhere in the Universe. In addition to other planetary systems, Webb will also study objects within our own Solar System.

Whilst all the science being done here is breath-taking in its scope, the ‘Planets and Origins of Life’ field is what has me the most enthusiastic. I mean, you know, it is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of all time, “Are we alone?”. I don’t think JWST will resolutely answer that question comprehensively, but if it can find planets with atmospheres similar to our own and organic building blocks spread across the cosmos, then chances are that microbial life, at least, is abundant in the Universe, and that is a major stepping stone to answering that most profound of questions.

Anyway, if this has got your interest, head over to NASA’s JWST Page for more juicy info 🙂

5G: Age of Interconnectedness

Network Earth

The next couple of years will see the roll-out of the next upgrade to wireless networks, and asides from increasing data transfer speeds by a factor of x100 and reducing latency to almost 0, it is going to take us to a world where it is not just people that are connected to each other, but everything will be.

An infinite mesh of connections know as the Internet of Things will become ubiquitous throughout modern society. Like the previous generation of wireless networking 4G, this wont just appear over night and will require cooperation between governments and business to complete the engineering challenge to make 5G omnipresent in life, but when we get there, we can look forward to some really cool stuff such as:

  • Remote Surgery: Due to the almost 0 latency of 5G means that if you have a brain tumour that is very complex and hard to remove, and the best person for the job is 5,000 miles away, they can remotely operate on you via a specially made robot connected to the internet. This kind of man-machine interface is also useful in situation where it might be dangerous for humans to go, such as in bomb disposal or a collapsed mine.
  • Autonomous Transport: It is believed by many that the standardisation of 5G will lead to an exponential rise in the use of autonomous vehicles. If you think about it, it is a prerequisite; all those vehicles are going to have to keep constantly updating each other about their own positions and the world around them. This is going to require extremely reliable connections and the transfer speeds that comes with 5G. Additionally, 5G will allow drones and drone services come into their own.
  • Autonomous Manufacturing: As with transport, the manufacturing process will continue its trend of automation and when 5G arrives, factories will become pretty much human free, with the remaining humans overseeing the work of smart machines.
  • Smart Cities: Watch this short video by NBC video below. Not only does it tell you about smart cities, but it is a good visualisation of The Internet of Things and how the above autonomous cars will work with smart cities. It also includes some concerns regarding smart cities and 5G that we’ll have to address over the coming years.
Smart Cities are a must going into the future. However, we must have robust institutions in place to regulate the use of private data

This is just a short list of the things that 5G is set to change. One of the things most people in the industry can agree upon is that there are probably thousands of applications for 5G that we haven’t even thought of yet.

5G, and future generations of wireless technology are one of the reasons why I see global governance and unity being an inevitable outcome, whether that be in 100 years or 1000 years. It makes the world a smaller and smaller place, but at the same time a more intimately connected place. It allows us to more efficiently organise as larger and larger groups, and history has shown us we tend to organise ourselves in larger and larger groups under larger and larger sovereignties. We started out as hunter-gathers in small family tribes, then during the agricultural revolution we settles down into small villages, which evolved into towns, which evolved into cities, which evolved into nations. This trend will continue until we have a global sovereignty. Hopefully we can get there peacefully ay…

Michio Kaku: The Optimistic Vanguard We All Need

Michio Kaku….a Scientist and a Gentleman

Michio Kaku, what a lad. He is a Hero of Science, Commander of Optimism, General of Pragmatism and Vanguard of the Human Spirit. Give the video above a little watch to see what I’m getting at…if not read on.

 

In case you missed it, Michio Kaku is an American theoretical physicist, author and science communicator. He has appeared on countless television programs and documentaries and written several bestselling books including Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century and Beyond & Future of Humanity. Professionally as a theoretical physicist, he works on String Field Theory, sometimes called the ‘Theory of Everything’ as it tries to unite Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (gravity and the macro world) and Quantum Theory (the world of the particles and sub-atomic particles). Long story short, dealing with the nature of reality.

But I’m not here to talk about String Field Theory, that’s way beyond my comprehension. I’m here to talk a little bit about the man behind it. Michio (among others) has been one of the key inspirations behind me creating this blog. He extols ‘bigger-picture-long-term-thinking’ as a paradigm for policy making, something which I very much believe in; far too often politicians have knee-jerk reactions to events and circumstance, making short-sighted ill-informed policies in response. More often than not they do not solve the root cause of the problem and just further exacerbate the situation down-stream.

He is fantastic at making intimidating subjects accessible and understandable to the average person and what I love about him most is his “we can have our cake and eat it” attitude. I think some people may see him as overly idealistic, and I can understand why, but I very much endorse and agree with his attitude because there is only one thing standing in our way of a bright and prosperous future and that is the Political Will to do it. We have the scientific know-how and technical knowledge to make it happen, but it won’t happen unless we tell our politicians en masse, with conviction in our voice, that we want policies to be based on empirical evidence & reason rather than ideology. That we want to be a society that has the foresight to take control of our own fate (after all, we are the first species able to control our own fate) and use our mastery over the environment for the prosperity of all human-kind, and by extension of that all life on earth. We need the Political Will to do this or we risk exposing ourselves to cataclysmic events which could wipe us out or at least put a severe dent in our history. We can have our cake and eat it, if we want to.

Some people will want to call this wishy-washy bullshit, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. We are living on the cusp of what science fiction writers have been writing about for the past 100 years.

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Robotics
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Nanotechnology
  • VR/AR
  • 3D Printing & Manufacturing
  • Invitro-Farming
  • Self-Driving Cars
  • Quantum Levitation
  • Brain-Machine Interfaces
  • Digital/Actual Immortality
  • Teleportation
  • Fusion Power
  • Geo-Engineering
  • Asteroid Mining
  • Off-World Colonization
  • And so on…

You get the picture…all these things aren’t in some far-flung future, these are things that are being worked on now and are at various stages development. If you need anymore convincing that we’re living in the future, NASA are even working on the feasibility of the Alcubierre Drive (A.K.A god-damn Warp Drive).

These things are going to be coming into our lives more and more over the next few decades to varying degrees and they’re going to fundamentally change global life. What Michio is trying to drive home, and what I back him 10,000% on is that we need to be talking about these disruptive (albeit amazing) technologies now and not when they have already disrupted life and it becomes much more expensive and effort to sort out.

I think the key thing we need to hold onto that Michio promotes (as well as many other scientist, engineers and futurists) is the need for us not to be a one planet species. 99% of all the species that have ever existed have become extinct. We are at the mercy of the universe, we are in a cosmic shooting gallery and when (not if) a global extinction asteroid comes floating our way again, we need insurance against it. Conversely, if nature doesn’t wipe us out through rogue asteroids or a viral pandemic, we need to insure ourselves against human stupidity, on the off chance mutually assured destruction ever becomes a thing. Fortunately, the best weapon against both these things is the human imagination and ingenuity. The only pragmatic thing to do is use science and technology to ensure a prosperous and safe future for all life on earth, and to protect us from ourselves.

Randall Munroe said:

“The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there’s no good reason to go into space – each discovered, studied and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.”

I support Michio, and all others, who want to work towards the sci-fi vision of the future that has been prophesied to us through pop-culture because at the end of the day…Not only should we have our cake and eat, but we must.