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Archive for the ‘policy’ category: Page 55

Aug 11, 2012

Water and Bombs again

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, business, counterterrorism, defense, education, engineering, ethics, events, existential risks, futurism, geopolitics, habitats, human trajectories, lifeboat, media & arts, military, nuclear weapons, physics, policy, space, sustainability, transparency

This essay was posted previously last year and removed and has appeared in abridged form in the European Space Safety online Magazine and can also be found on Yahoo voices.

Several dates are cited as marking the beginning of the space age. Sputnik, October 4th, 1957, Yuri’s day April 12th, 1961, and the first successful V-2 launch by the Nazis on October 3rd, 1942, to name a few. Some prefer December 21st, 1968, when human beings first escaped the Earth’s gravitational field on Apollo 8. When studying the events that allowed man to leave Earth, future historians may agree on a date not generally associated with space flight. July 16th, 1945 was Trinity, the first nuclear weapon test. Stanislaw Ulam, a 36-year-old Polish mathematician who helped build “the gadget”, visited ground zero after the test. Ulam later conceived the idea of propelling a spaceship with atomic bombs. Near the end of his life the eccentric genius stated the idea was his greatest work.

When considering nuclear propulsion, it must be understood that space is not an ocean, though often characterized as one. The distances and conditions are not comparable. While chemical energy has allowed humankind to travel across and above the surface of Earth, the energy required to travel in space is of a different order. Water, in the form of steam, was the agent of change that brought about the industrial revolution. Fossil fuel, burned and transformed by steam into mechanical work, would radically change the world in the span of a century. What is difficult for moderns to understand is not only how limited human capabilities were before steam, but how limited they are in the present in terms of space travel. The psychological limits of human beings limit space journeys to a few years. Chemical propulsion is not capable of taking human beings to the outer solar system and back within those crew limits. The solution is a reaction one million times more powerful. Nuclear energy is to the space age as steam was to the industrial age.

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Jul 20, 2012

Expect Confirmation of Extraterrestrial Life by 2047

Posted by in categories: cosmology, policy, space

Recently Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute, wrote an article in the Huffington Post How to Find Extraterrestrial Life. He had proposed that the search for extraterrestrial life was a three-way horse race. According to Shostak:

(1) Discover Life Nearby: This is the search for life in our solar system.

(2) Sniff It Out: Do the sort of spectral analysis that might detect atmospheric gases caused by biology.

(3) Eavesdrop On ET: Otherwise known as SETI, is the effort to detect radio signals or laser flashes from technically savvy extraterrestrials.

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Jul 12, 2012

A Resilient Logic for Hazardous Times

Posted by in categories: complex systems, economics, engineering, ethics, existential risks, nuclear weapons, policy, sustainability
“If the rate of change on the outside
exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”
- Jack Welch

Complex societies are heavily addicted to expensive, vulnerable and potentially hazardous infrastructure. We rely on a healthy environment for production of food and access to clean water. We depend on technological infrastructure for energy supplies and communications. We are deeply addicted to economic growth to support growing populations and consumption. If one of these pillars of modern society crumbles our existence will collapse like a house of cards.

The interdependencies and complexities of the system we call modern society has become so intertangled that finding a robust and simple solution to our problems has become close to impossible. Historically the cold war gave us the logic of a “balance of terror”. This logic, originally concerned with a balance of U.S. vs. Soviet military capacities, has lead to an increasingly expensive way of reducing risk and ever expanding bureaucracies to keep us “virtually safe”.

With the onset of a global economic recession, drastic climate change, deadly natural disasters, raging civil wars and diminishing natural resources we need a new logic. A set of moral laws for reducing risk and mitigating consequences applicable at a low cost from the bottom up of entire societies.

The concept of resilience is based on the idea that disasters are inevitable and a natural part of existence. Our best defense is preparedness and engineering systems that not only can withstand heavy strains but also absorb damage. The Institute for Resilient Infrastructure at the University of Leeds gives this definition of “Resilience”;

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Jul 6, 2012

Per Aspera Ad Astra

Posted by in categories: economics, education, engineering, ethics, futurism, human trajectories, philosophy, policy, rants, scientific freedom, space, sustainability, transparency

The unknown troubles and attracts us. We long to discover a reason for our existence. We look out to the stars through the darkness of space to observe phenomena incredibly far distances away. Many of us are curious about the things we see, these unknowns.

Yet, many of us look skyward and are uninspired, believing that our time and resources best be kept grounded. Despite our human-centered ideologies, our self-assured prophecies, our religious and philosophical beliefs, no existential rationale seems apparent.

We as people welcome technology into our lives and use it constantly to communicate and function. Scientific discoveries pique the interest of every citizen in every country, and technological revolutions have always preceded social and political revolutions from the creation of the internet back to man’s first use of simple tools. Leaders of nations proclaim the importance of science and discovery to our welfare to be utmost.

But what we have seen done recently contradicts these proclamations: space programs are closed; science funding for schools always falls short; and we see no emphasis of the significance of science in our modern culture. Our governments call for the best but provide capital for only the satisfactory, if even. We no longer succumb to the allure of learning simply for the sake of knowing what we once did not know. We have stopped dreaming.

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Jun 26, 2012

A Brief Analysis of the Future of US — China Relations

Posted by in categories: business, defense, economics, ethics, geopolitics, military, policy

ENVIRONMENT & BACKGROUND

China is a rising world power with: increasing international economic power; improving military strength; tumultuous social issues. Exiting from the recent global economic and financial crisis, China sees itself strengthening and growing while America (and much of the ‘Western’ world) struggles to recuperate. This recovery disparity has given support to Chinese sentiment suggesting the superiority of Chinese policy and social culture.

China’s newfound (or newly revived) superiority complex has complicated American interaction with the government, where China now appears to be doing everything it can to avoid looking weak and to resist US/Western influence. With China’s rise, incentives for America to pressure democratization, establishment of free market economics, and improvement of human rights have grown in intensity. The US has very direct interests in the ‘Westernization’ of China and China does see benefits to cooperation, however they seem to resist or avert most American challenges to the Sino-status quo.

AVAILABLE OPTIONS

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Jun 24, 2012

The Importance of NASA

Posted by in categories: business, economics, education, engineering, policy, space

America has been a spacefaring nation since 1958. Over the past fifty-three years, America overtook its first rival, the Soviet Union (spacefaring since 1957), and maintained its supremacy in the aerospace and aeronautical industries, having the most developed and successful space program, the strongest private aerospace/aeronautical industry, and the most intelligent engineers and scientists. During times where space exploration and advanced scientific research programs seem inappropriate to publicly fund and continue where economic difficulties, contested military actions, and other civil/financial issues seem to demand precedence, it needs to be promoted that NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is of immense importance to the security and welfare of the United States of America and must remain a national priority. NASA drives STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education as well as the development of commercial and defense technologies and works with private engineering and science companies across the country, employing thousands of brilliant engineers, scientists, and technicians to ensure the safety of the American people and maintain the technological and explorational prestige this country has always possessed.

NASA’s accomplishments are inspirational to students. It is capable of orbiting people around the planet in minutes, building a space station, and placing man on the moon, and in doing so powerfully inspires individuals to aspire for careers with the organization. In order to become involved with NASA, a student must study science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics, and by creating a strong incentive for people to study these topics, demand for STEM education increases. As demand increases, more STEM programs will develop and more people will become involved in STEM disciplines. Students studying STEM subjects develop critical thinking skills and strong senses of logic to overcome various problems and conflicts. New generations of engineers and scientists will rise to replace the retiring generations and surpass them in their accomplishments, but only will do so if opportunities to take such careers exist. Should NASA decay, it won’t only be NASA careers disappearing. Jobs at firms like Lockheed Martin, The Boeing Company, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and SpaceX among others will be lost as well and some of these firms will face immense downsizing or possibly even be forced to shut down, severely harming motivation for younger American students to pursue a degree or career in STEM related fields.

One of the greatest positive externalities of NASA is the technology developed as ‘spin-off’ used in the commercial and defense industries. When NASA was tasked with putting man on the moon, NASA realized the Apollo capsule would need computing systems installed within it that were far greater in power and far smaller than those currently in use and therefore tasked private industry with the development of compact computing devices that later became the PC and laptop. Without NASA funding, heart rate monitors, thermal video imaging, light emitting diodes, and velcro among many other technologies would not have been developed. While current domestic debate surrounds whether or not NASA should be downsized, enlarged, or completely phased out over time, foreign countries and blocs such as China, India, and the European Space Agency are investing even more time and money into improving their programs, their educational efforts, and plan to surpass American capabilities within the near future. Technological innovation, though still very prevalent within the United States, is beginning to grow very rapidly in foreign countries and more new technologies are being imported rather than exported every day. Instead of questioning whether or not NASA is necessary, America should be questioning what seemingly impossible task NASA should be working on next. Originally, the Apollo project seemed insurmountably difficult. But when national security threats (Soviet technological capabilities during the Cold War) met technological challenges (the Apollo program), NASA proved to be an irreplaceable source of innovation and wonder that united a nation, inspired a generation with dreams of space exploration, and provided a feeling of security to millions of people who feared another devastating war.

Which is also why NASA is critically important in the defense industry as a customer. NASA helps improve private and public defense and communication technologies. The relationship between NASA and the private industry is very symbiotic. NASA develops a plan or project and administers/contracts production and testing tasks out to the private industry, challenging thousands of engineers and scientists to improve their designs and inspires technological and manufacturing developments, which in turn allow NASA to complete its mission in an efficient and effective manner. China has proven it is capable of destroying our satellites by destroying one of its own and has announced its desire to develop a space program separated from America’s influence and plans to land on the moon in 2020. India, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, Romania, Japan, and Ukraine among others have all had confirmed launches and are working to become space powers themselves, developing their own aerospace industries and programs. Iraq and North Korea have also both touted successful launches, though their success are unconfirmed. NASA helps to keep America competitive by constantly challenging private industry and by making sure its goals for space and technological development are always beyond those of other countries, which helps to prevent enemies from defeating our technologies, thus keeping us safe.

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May 31, 2012

Médecins Sans Frontières Scientific Day 2012

Posted by in categories: complex systems, geopolitics, policy, sustainability

Every year Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hold a conference to present scientific research carried out by their teams from different parts of the world. This year’s conference highlighted some of the strategic challenges facing MSF, and challenged some of our conceptions of medical humanitarian aid, and international development in light of groundbreaking digital technologies. We are as Paul Conneally passionately articulated in his keynote speech – Digital Humanitarian – ‘on the cusp of a global health revolution’.

Some of the groundbreaking technologies touched upon included crisis mapping, a technology that is still in its infancy, and the era of big data. The possibilities of how healthcare and humanitarian aid will be transformed by the convergence of ideas and technologies were evident in the poster session; humanitarian technology applications showed refugee camps in Kenya being monitored using satellite imagery and a humanitarian field software kit called joekit. Of the talks demonstrating real world examples, a talk by Isabella Panunzi on teleradiology proved to be immensely inspiring.

Isabella’s talk on her experience of applying teleradiology to improve diagnosis of tuberculosis in Thyolo District Hospital, Malawi showcased humanitarian innovation at its best. X-rays are taken at the Malawi hospital and the images are then sent to radiologists in the USA to interpret the images. As a result teleradiology has reduced critical delays and missed diagnosis of TB. This example of digital humanitarianism symbolises a small fraction of what can be potentially achieved in transforming our world. It opens up new possibilities in the transfer of technology and knowledge to the developing world. It also highlights the need for a different approach to modelling the strategic challenges of medical humanitarian aid and international development, and this is where complexity thinking and science can bring together different parts of problems and solutions to construct true holistic solutions.

A talk by Jonathan Smith, lecturer in Global Health and Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases at Yale University, brought together the disciplines of the arts and sciences as he gave an inventive take on using research in the digital age. Visually documenting disease and connecting the ‘emotional component to epidemiological data’ is extremely powerful to create change in global health observed Jonathon, as he showed part of a documentary film he is directing, ‘They Go to Die’, a film about,

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May 14, 2012

From Global Crisis — A Planetary Defense?

Posted by in categories: asteroid/comet impacts, defense, economics, ethics, events, existential risks, futurism, geopolitics, lifeboat, military, nuclear weapons, policy, rants, space, treaties

Russia’s hastily convened international conference in St. Petersburg next month is being billed as a last-ditch effort at superpower cooperation in defense of Earth against dangers from space.

But it cannot be overlooked that this conference comes in response to the highly controversial NATO anti-ballistic missile deployments in Eastern Europe. These seriously destabilizing, nuclear defenses are pretexted as a defense against a non-nuclear Iran. In reality, the western moves of anti-missile systems into Poland and Romania create a de facto nuclear first-strike capability for NATO, and they vacate a series of Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaties with the Russians that go back forty years.

Deeply distrustful of these new US and NATO nuclear first-strike capabilities, the Russians announced they will not attend NATO’s planned deterrence summit in Chicago this month. Instead, they are testing Western intentions with a proposal for cooperative project for near-space mapping, surveillance, and defense against Earth-crossing asteroids and other dangerous space objects.

The Russians have invited NATO members as well as forward-thinking space powers to a conference in June in Petrograd. The agenda: Planetary defense against incursions by objects from space. It would be a way of making cooperative plowshares from the space technologies of hair-trigger nuclear terror (2 minutes warning, or less, in the case of the Eastern European ABMs).

It’s an offer the US and other space powers should accept.

Apr 15, 2012

Risk Assessment is Hard (computationally and otherwise)

Posted by in categories: existential risks, information science, policy

How hard is to assess which risks to mitigate? It turns out to be pretty hard.

Let’s start with a model of risk so simplified as to be completely unrealistic, yet will still retain a key feature. Suppose that we managed to translate every risk into some single normalized unit of “cost of expected harm”. Let us also suppose that we could bring together all of the payments that could be made to avoid risks. A mitigation policy given these simplifications must be pretty easy: just buy each of the “biggest for your dollar” risks.

Not so fast.

The problem with this is that many risk mitigation measures are discrete. Either you buy the air filter or you don’t. Either your town filters its water a certain way or it doesn’t. Either we have the infrastructure to divert the asteroid or we don’t. When risk mitigation measures become discrete, then allocating the costs becomes trickier. Given a budget of 80 “harms” to reduce, and risks of 50, 40, and 35, then buying the 50 leaves 15 “harms” that you were willing to pay to avoid left on the table.

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Apr 9, 2012

LHC-Critique Press Info: Instead of a neutral risk assessment of the LHC: New records and plans for costly upgrades at CERN

Posted by in categories: complex systems, cosmology, engineering, ethics, existential risks, futurism, media & arts, nuclear energy, particle physics, philosophy, physics, policy, scientific freedom, space, sustainability

High energy experiments like the LHC at the nuclear research centre CERN are extreme energy consumers (needing the power of a nuclear plant). Their construction is extremely costly (presently 7 Billion Euros) and practical benefits are not in sight. The experiments eventually pose existential risks and these risks have not been properly investigated.

It is not the first time that CERN announces record energies and news around April 1 – apparently hoping that some critique and concerns about the risks could be misinterpreted as an April joke. Additionally CERN regularly starts up the LHC at Easter celebrations and just before week ends, when news offices are empty and people prefer to have peaceful days with their friends and families.

CERN has just announced new records in collision energies at the LHC. And instead of conducting a neutral risk assessment, the nuclear research centre plans costly upgrades of its Big Bang machine. Facing an LHC upgrade in 2013 for up to CHF 1 Billion and the perspective of a Mega-LHC in 2022: How long will it take until risk researchers are finally integrated in a neutral safety assessment?

There are countless evidences for the necessity of an external and multidisciplinary safety assessment of the LHC. According to a pre-study in risk research, CERN fits less than a fifth of the criteria for a modern risk assessment (see the press release below). It is not acceptable that the clueless member states point at the operator CERN itself, while this regards its self-set security measures as sufficient, in spite of critique from risk researchers, continuous debates and the publication of further papers pointing at concrete dangers and even existential risks (black holes, strangelets) eventually arising from the experiments sooner or later. Presently science has to admit that the risk is disputed and basically unknown.

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