M Thomas Apple Author Page

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

Automated killer machines? Here already, but not what you think

June 5, 2021
MThomas

Diving into the topic doesn’t reveal that the world quietly experienced the opening salvos of the Terminator timeline in 2020. But it does point to a more prosaic and perhaps much more depressing truth: that no one can agree on what a killer robot is, and if we wait for this to happen, their presence in war will have long been normalized. It’s cheery stuff, isn’t it? It’ll take your mind off the global pandemic at least.

https://www.theverge.com/2021/6/3/22462840/killer-robot-autonomous-drone-attack-libya-un-report-context

Actually, the truly scary “killer robots” would be much less like Terminator and more like the self-replicating ones in PDK’s “Second Variety” (or Screamers for those who haven’t read the original short…my recommendation? forget the B movie, read the story).

But there are already plenty of “semi-automated” machines that kill. It’s relatively easy to program a device to wait until someone approaches, and then shoot/radiate/explode. Strictly speaking, even basic landmines fit this definition.

What would help is the media stopping sensationalistic yellow journalism that throws around fear-mongering hyped-up headlines to sell copy.

Yeah, right. Like that’ll happen any time soon.

Machines killing without a human operator? Already here.

Machines seeking out and killing humans without pre-programmed responses and of their own accord?

We’re a long way away from that.

For now.

Maybe we just need to take away their control stones…

Warp drives, wormholes, and FTL: oh, my

May 20, 2021
MThomas

This is a neat summary of the current state of faster-than-light (FTL) theories. (From April 27, 2021).

As the author concludes in the words of Captain Picard, “Things are only impossible until they are not.”

https://astronomy.com/news/2021/04/warp-drives-physicists-investigate-faster-than-light-space-travel

Who wants an extra thumb?

May 20, 2021
MThomas

As the training progressed, the participants changed the way they used the device, which resulted in new finger coordination patterns. This was recorded in their hand movements as well as in their brains.

https://gizmodo.com/like-a-part-of-their-body-people-adapt-to-an-extra-thu-1846926329

The only problem with the design is that you have to control it with your foot. Not ideal if you’re walking!

Not to worry. That’s the next step. Er, stage.

China doesn’t care about the rest of the world — except when the rest of the world criticizes it

May 4, 2021
MThomas

“When they did that design, they should have stopped and thought, ‘you know, that’s going to leave a big chunk of debris in orbit, we should change the design of the engine’,” McDowell says. “But they didn’t. This is real negligence.”

https://www.inverse.com/science/long-march-5b-uncontrolled-reentry

Four years ago, China’s first space station landed in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Chile, after an uncontrolled reentry. China didn’t care.

Last year, pieces from a Long March 5B rocket landed in Cote d’Ivoire. They damaged buildings in two villages. China didn’t care.

This launch of the same rocket design could land anywhere from New York to New Zealand, covering a wide range of habitation. China doesn’t care.

On the other hand, once somebody in their government reads about the criticism by the scientific community, they’ll petulantly whine that this often happened in the 1960s, so that makes it OK for them to ignore rocket safety designs known for the past 30 years.

Maybe it’s technology they haven’t yet stolen from other countries.

As the self-acknowledged center of the known universe, the Middle Kingdom only cares what others think of it. Like a spoiled child that thinks it knows everything but fears it does not, China only reacts to its own mistakes by lashing out at others and disclaiming responsibility.

If you want to be respected as a superpower, you need to learn how to respect other countries and stop dumping your trash on them. Respect is not given, it is earned. China has done little to earn any respect by the scientific community.

“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!

Frogs embryos turned into xenobots

April 12, 2021
MThomas

Oh you precious little life forms…

Using blobs of skin cells from frog embryos, scientists have grown creatures unlike anything else on Earth, a new study reports. These microscopic “living machines” can swim, sweep up debris and heal themselves after a gash.

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/frog-skin-cells-self-made-living-machines-xenobots/amp?__twitter_impression=true

The possibilities are endless…

Magnetic reconnection plasma thruster: Not too fast, not too slow, juuuust right

February 4, 2021
MThomas

A crewed mission to Mars may be more practical thanks to a new rocket concept developed by Fatima Ebrahimi, a physicist at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), that uses magnetic fields to generate thrust.

https://newatlas.com/space/magnetic-reconnection-rocket-thruster-concept-spaceflight-mars/

Looks good so far…

…although it’s just a computer simulation right now and the magnetic thruster model hasn’t even been built yet.

Ah, well, just repurpose an existing ion thruster, right?

Hmm. I’m not a rocket scientist, but.. 🚀

Whatever happened to the “spaceplane”?

January 27, 2021
MThomas

NASA ended the US’s interest in spaceplanes when it scrapped the shuttle fleet a decade ago.

But other space agencies and private companies in other countries are very much in the game. ESA, India, even the UK.

And, of course…

Whichever future the spaceplane does have, it will involve China. “We know very little about the launch [of China’s experimental spaceplane],” says Deville. “But it shows that China is serious about developing its spaceplane concepts.”

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210121-spaceplanes-the-return-of-the-reuseable-spacecraft

How to get a new tooth in Japan

January 23, 2021
MThomas

Note: the screw is nowhere near this big.

This past Thursday I got a metal spike screwed into my jaw.

And it hurt.

But not as badly as I feared. To be honest, it’s all my fault. Well, all my 20-year-old-self’s fault. Too much soda and not enough brushing and flossing in college.

Damn you, Dr. Pepper!

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