M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

That’s what I want: A tall building with frickin’ laser beams on top!

January 17, 2023
MThomas

The feat, which involved firing powerful laser pulses at thunderclouds over several months last year, paves the way for laser-based lightning protection systems at airports, launchpads and tall buildings.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2023/jan/16/scientists-steer-lightning-bolts-with-lasers-for-the-first-time

Probably a little cost-prohibitive for most of us, but potentially useful for others!

ChatGPT: Is this really the “death of the essay”?

December 17, 2022
MThomas

I’ve been testing ChatGPT over the last couple of days. (If you don’t know what this chatbot is, here’s a good NYT article about ChatGPT and others currently in development.)

The avowed purpose of ChatGPT is to create an AI that can create believable dialogues. It does this by scouring the web for data it uses to respond to simple prompts.

By “simple,” I mean sometimes “horribly complicated,” of course. And sometimes a little ridiculous.

Somehow, I doubt that people in the US said “livin’ the dream” in the ’50s…

As has been pointed out, chatbots only generate texts based on what they have been fed, i.e., “garbage in / garbage out.” So if you push the programs hard enough, they will generate racist, sexist, homophobic etc awful stuff — because unfortunately that kind of sick and twisted garbage is still out there, somewhere online in a troll’s paradise.

So far, I have asked the program to:

  1. Write a haiku about winter without using the word “winter”
  2. Write a limerick about an Irish baseball player
  3. Write a dialogue between God and Nietzsche (I just had to…)
  4. Imagine what Jean-Paul Sartre and Immanuel Kant would say to each other (see above) but using US ’50 slang
  5. Have Thomas Aquinas and John Locke argue about the existence of God (that one was fun)
  6. Write a 300 word cause-effect essay about climate change
  7. Write a 300 word compare and contrast essay about the US and Japan
  8. Write a 1000 word short science fiction story based on Mars
  9. Write a 1500 word short science fiction about robots in the style of Philip K Dick

OK, and the verdict is:

Continue Reading

DART did it! 🎯

October 12, 2022
MThomas

“For the first time ever, humanity has changed the orbit of a planetary body,” said NASA planetary science division director Lori Glaze.

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/dart-mission-deflected-asteroid-for-planetary-defense

A change of 32 minutes in orbit — but only 4% of the total orbital period. To deflect an asteroid away from Earth, it’d better be done several years in advance. 🌏

Still, it can be done. An amazing first.

Attack of the Killer Drones — Non-fiction not fiction?

July 26, 2022
MThomas

These aren’t the drones that deliver your online order. Loaded with cameras, sensors, and explosives, their mission is to drive themselves to a target with an algorithm in the driver’s seat. They destroy themselves along with the target, leaving behind just a pile of electronic detritus.

https://m.dw.com/en/killer-robots-will-they-be-banned/a-62587436

Oh, joy. I can’t wait to see what happens when we program 3D printers to churn them out.

Or just simply make them self-replicating. What could possibly go wrong?

The University of Tokyo just covered a robot finger with real skin. The jokes write themselves…

June 20, 2022
MThomas

Skin is also just the first step in combining organic matter with machines, and opens the door for incorporating nerves and sensory organs such as olfactory receptors which can detect scents.

https://soranews24.com/2022/06/16/robot-finger-covered-in-living-skin-developed-by-university-of-tokyo/

The original report was published online by the U of Tokyo before it was covered last week by several online sources, including WebMD, the Independent, France 24, and ABC7, but the Sora News is the only one to post Japanese reader comments about, well, what fingers can do. Ahem.

The final quote of the researchers was posted on WebMD as:

“We believe this is a great step toward a new biohybrid robot with the superior functions of living organisms.”

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/news/20220616/robot-finger-with-living-skin-points-to-a-new-future

Eek. Maybe might wanna rethink this…

Ion engines are no longer sci-fi

June 19, 2021
MThomas

The inclusion of an ion propulsion system in a long-running, Earth-orbiting space station will give researchers a chance to test out the tech while astronauts are still close to home — and if it works as hoped, it could one day ferry explorers to Mars and even more distant destinations.

https://www.freethink.com/articles/ion-propulsion

That’s a big “if.”

Another is what the price will be, since no doubt this neat new tech won’t easily be shared among nation-states.

Just yesterday Chinese astronauts entered their new space station for the first time. They weren’t allowed into the ISS. Now they don’t need the ISS.

The old rivalries will follow humanity into space…but for how long will the rivalries remain…

“Wright Brothers’ moment” – helicopters on Mars

April 19, 2021
MThomas

“We together flew on Mars. We together have our Wright brothers moment.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/04/19/nasa-ingenuity-helicopter-mars/

Yeah, yeah, I know. Technically, a German immigrant in Connecticut flew a plane before Orville and Wilbur.

But PR counts. Kudos, NASA!

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