Saturday 17 June 2017

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Friday 9 June 2017

Transcript, Episode 3: How is 3D printing changing your life?

You can listen to this show here or watch it on YouTube here.

Welcome to Talk Universe I'm your host Sir Charles Shults. This is the show for Wednesday, July 27th, 2016. Our show tonight is focused on a great subject: how is 3d printing changing your life?

We've seen the growth of 3d printing over the last few years and it has reached the point where it's part of all of our lives now. It's hard for us to imagine a world before cheap printers, and I can tell you before they existed, you had a tough time getting a document printed without somebody literally typing it out manually or writing it by hand.

Copy machines were expensive and not always available. Think for a moment about how much we take for granted in the form of instant communications anywhere in the world. Your cell phone can text from New York to New Delhi and you get an instant answer back in seconds. Printing is the same. Not so long ago it was difficult to get documents - you had to fax things and it only worked if your contact on the other side had a fax machine. But we see how quickly - explosively really - that printers came onto the scene. My first printer was a dot matrix with ribbon in it. 3d printers are going through the same phase now where all you can make is limited pretty much by the plastic or powder that your particular machine can use. But we'll see now that just about anything you can imagine can be printed and that's one of the things we're going to cover in detail tonight of the show. We're going to look at the state of 3d printing and what it's about to become and that's something a lot of listeners might not have considered yet. We're already moving from the primitive stages of the art to something far richer and more capable.

So let's take a little journey here and cover some of the best and most surprising advancements in the field. Also I'm going to introduce somebody tonight to the show that I've known for years and work with. His name is Ed Minchau and he's going to be co-hosting the show on some occasions and he's going to provide a lot of interesting content. He's an engineer and does a lot of science and physics work and he's great in robotics and engineering things. So let's prepare for a show that's going to expand your imagination a little and explore some of the possibilities of 3d printing and let's see what it's doing to your life right now.

So what is 3d printing? Basically it's just taking an idea such as a computer design and putting it in a machine that can extrude or put together an object. In other words you can have an idea you can design it on the computer or you can get a blueprint from someone and you put it in your 3d printer and just like printing a copy of a document or a picture it does the same thing, only that it prints a solid object, and that object can be made of many many different materials. Home 3d printers pretty much work with plastic and that's pretty much the range of it because it's an easy material to get and it's an easy material to work. But, there are disadvantages. For one, you're generally limited to pretty slow printing. It often takes anywhere from 20 minutes to five or six hours to print a part, depending on the complexity. And the other thing is resolution. 3d printers aren't known for great resolution - they generally have pretty large sized dots to make up the objects. And so whenever you do print an object is very grainy in most cases. And the plastic is another issue. It usually comes in a (single) color.

It was a joke back at the beginning of the 20th century, around 1910, somebody asked what color Henry Ford's cars were available in - he said "any color you like as long as it's black". 3d printing sort of suffers that shortcoming right now. If you buy a roll of green plastic or a roll of blue plastic you're going to print things out of green plaster your blue plastic. Most of them do not allow you to change the color of the material as you're printing it because every time you change a color it means you'd have to have a different printhead. So there are some machines available now though for pretty reasonable prices that have numerous print heads that print different types of plastic and different colors of plastic so it can be done. And the newer machines are actually reaching the point where they can print some fascinating things in full-color. Hewlett Packard just invented a device they put on the market called the voxel. Now this isn't something you're going to be putting in your home because it costs about one hundred twenty thousand to a hundred forty five thousand dollars depending on the options you get, but voxel is a term meaning volume pixel so that sort of gives you an idea of where they're going.

The voxel printer, however, has some distinct advantages and one of them is it can print a full range of colors. It can actually blend colors so that you can make an object that has a changing color throughout its volume or surface and it can print materials that have unique properties such as being flexible. Most 3d printed plastics are solid and pretty inflexible, and if you try to stress it too far it's going to break. They actually can print materials that have a foamy consistency or flexible consistency sort of like foam rubber.

Now in the auto industry 3d printers have been used extensively in recent years because they can print prototypes of parts such as bumpers or wheel covers or even some body panels pretty quickly and test them out and see how well they're going to operate. And one of the advantages of this is you actually can print a part and do some destructive testing on it - and realize that the material is printed out of is probably not going to be as strong as let's say an injection molded part or a stamped part - but it does allow you to figure out where the stress points are where it's likely to fail and so you can do a little testing on it and you can know in advance. So there's some advantages to 3d printing in that regime. Later on after you've got your design right you go to an injection molding or steel stamping stage where you actually make the fabricated part and we're not actually to the stage where a lot of 3d printing is used to mass-produce, and there are reasons for that too. One of them is the speed; it isn't a real fast technology right now. You're almost growing a part in a lot of cases.

And we're not limited to just plastics or metals, although metal printing has become a big thing recently. There are a number of tool companies that will knock off a tool for you very quickly, and in the past this was done by milling or machining something or in some cases actually making a mold and casting it. Foundries made a lot of work making millions and millions of copies of things like the lid for the sewer or the lid for your water meter or the housing for a gear box or a crank case.

What they would do is they would produce a part that was cast out of material such as bronze or aluminum or steel, and then later it would go through a finishing stage where they take it to a milling machine and they would mill the precision surfaces on it and thread it and put inserts in or whatever, and you have a finished part fairly rapidly. 3d printing has reached a stage now where they can produce solid metal objects that actually have very good properties, and they can be finished and machined or do whatever you want afterwards.

In many cases you don't have to do any finish work, you actually can print a solid part out of some fairly dense metals these days. It's done generally by using a metal powder and then using a laser to sinter together - not entirely melt but fuse together - the particles to produce a solid part. And so it's sort of like a sand process - we have a layer of sand and you draw something in the sand it sticks together and then you put another layer of sand on it you do it again and you keep doing that until it builds up.

The reason is you need to have some sort of scaffold to hold up a part that isn't attached at a lower level but might be in an upper. So, imagine you're making a statue and the arms are hanging down the sides and you start to draw the statue from the bottom up. Well you get up to about the top of the legs or the top of the knee, you have to start drawing the fingertips and then the fingers and then the hand and they're not joined to the body yet so what holds it in place while the printing is happening and the answer is whatever your material is you're building it out of - whether it's metal powder or plastic powder - that acts as a scaffold to hold those pieces stationary until they join up with the rest of the structure farther on up the arm to the shoulder.

So that's just an example of some of the limitations. Big inroads were made in biology - 3d printing limbs - and back as early as 2006 there were places in Brazil where they were fabricating wind pipes out of human cartilage from the person who was going to receive the transplant. And, they were making the wind pipe knitting it together in a chemical bath and then implanting it in the recipient. So if you had a cancer of the throat or the windpipe they actually could make a replacement for you and implanted in early 2006. In this country in the USA they just recently released a report saying that it may be feasible to use stem cells to print replacement organs, and I thought this is almost insulting because there are third world countries that have already been doing this for over a decade. So it seems that we're actually a little bit behind in the 3d printing and biological materials and organs here.

But don't worry that's about to turn around and we're going to see a near-term future where they're going to be printing hearts and kidneys and lungs. Now, one issue if you're printing living material is the printing of neurons. Neural tissue is specialized and it's more or less the wiring. Well, it is exactly it's the wiring inside your hardware. And to print the neurons you would have to actually be printing individual cells' pieces. And so that is an issue, that's a problem.

Of course we do have methods of making neurons grow where we want them to today, and wiring up just as they would in a living organism. So I think it's going to take a little advancement, but pretty soon we'll be seeing entire organs and possibly even limbs grown for replacement. So that is a bright spot in our future in 3d printing.

Now one of the other things to consider is that you have a specialized printer for a specialized job, and each type of printer produces something different. There are some printers that make food items, there are some printers that make plastic or metal items or tools, and some that can produce tissues and organs. And I think where this is going is the Star Trek replicator concept. Everybody is pretty much familiar with the Star Trek series how they would simply order up something it would appear. The replicator was a device a fictional device that could produce any food or any artifact they needed on demand. And we are getting there. We're getting to the point where very soon we'll be able to order up anything and have it made in our home and this is very disruptive to the typical economy of manufacturing and this is one of the reasons there's been some real resistance to the inclusion of 3d printing in industry. Because if you can have a machine at home that can make anything you want, then it short circuits the design manufacture storage transport delivery sale that sort of cycle. It takes a huge chunk out of the economy of things. And it means that there'd be a radical shift in how we perceive commerce as well as manufacturing. I mean as it is, when you need a prototype of a tool or a machine made you call a designer or a machine shop or all of the above and they get together and they work out your tool and then they cut a mold or they cut it out of a block of metal or whatever and it is they design build and then deliver the tool to you. And usually it's a process of some weeks.

And anybody who does machine tool work or machine shop work understands that cycle. When you get to the stage where you can tell your computer with a mouse and some hand gestures, "I need something like this", and then within an hour so that finished part is delivered right there in your living room it does change the way that things are done. So traditional machine shops in many senses may be on their way out with 3d printing.

And traditional medical technologies are being turned on their ear. It's going to change absolutely everything. Now a lot of the foods that you're eating today are still the same foods you had 20-30 years ago if you were around there and you remember that, but 3d printing is reaching a stage where it is making inroads into the snack food industries and other places. So there are places you can call and have custom candies or cakes or pastries or foods made or if you really have the money for it you can buy your own 3d printer and make custom food items.

So this is not so far out of reach, The replicator box is not far away. Now one thing I'd like to point out is again, as I stated earlier, you generally have different machines for different jobs. We don't want to have a box a single box that makes everything for the simple fact that you might be able to squeamish about printing your ham sandwich in the box and then printing some parts for the car or some lights for the house and then printing a kidney. I don't think anybody would really want to do that with the same box.

Now just recently, to show the other end of the scale, there's a Chinese company called Gio Dau company and what they have done is Gio Dau group is they develop a form of 3d printing to make homes. And what's unique about theirs is they come up with a new material for the printing process that makes them very sturdy, and they say that these homes are capable of withstanding an earthquake with a 9.0 rating. So a 9.0 Richter earthquake not taking down your house, that's a significant thing. That's a big thing.

And there are a lot of places in the world where you see a lot of earthquakes and earth movement happening right now so this is an ability to produce a modular home with a 3d printing process. Now they don't print the house on site like you might expect - the modules are 3d printed in a factory and then they're carried out and assembled. They point out that they can put together a 500 square metre villa in 15 days. Well the time isn't so impressive to me. I mean 15 days with good construction crew you could have that done anyway with traditional materials. But the earthquake resistance is a big thing and they have filed 22 different patents just recently on their materials and their processes. So it looks like the ability to print houses out of just about whatever materials you need using 3d technology is here. And you can imagine that it's going to expand very rapidly. I'm hoping to do an interview with a friend of mine, Joe Lacey in the near future, where I cover a machine that he is building for 3d printing buildings and structures. He's a quite an interesting fellow and entrepreneur, and he has engineered some materials that are like concrete but foamy. They're fireproof and very lightweight, so that would be a wonderful ideal material to build a lot of things out of. You could print this stuff up in any form you want and literally put your building together in like three hours out of the panels and the pieces.

So right after the break we'll get back to the show and we'll start our interview with Ed Minchau, and I think you will be fascinated about some of the things we have to say about where 3d printing is where the future of it is going.


Charles Shults: Okay I want to introduce somebody to you on the show, my very good friend I worked with him for many many years and he's quite the engineer and scientist creating robotics coding and gaming. You know, just a fun guy to know his name is Ed Minchau and he's going to be co-hosting the show on many occasions so I'd like to introduce you. Ed welcome to the show.

Ed Minchau: Thank you very much. It's good to be here.

Charles Shults: Okay so we've got an interesting project 3d printing and I know both of us with all of our background in robotics and electronics and so forth have always been fascinated with 3d printing and the potential for it tell me what you think is the most important thing about it right off the bat.

Ed Minchau: Right off the bat it's stuff that used to take an entire factory and team of people to put together now you can do by yourself at home. It democratizes manufacturing. It's... its... I think it's returning manufacturing back to a sort of a craft kind of thing. It used to be that things were made one-off. Craftsmen made things one at a time, and it's... I think we're returning to that but leveraged. You've got the leverage of all of these engineers who put in the work into being able to reproduce your work automatically. You know,  you can create change and reproduce your work and just make one offs, prototypes, that used to take what like I said a factory and an entire team of people to do. So it's just a huge huge increase in the productivity of prototyping.

Charles Shults: Fantastic yeah I have to agree with you. You know a lot of us have made a gadget or a thing that might be a household tool might be an electronic device might be a part for your car and we know that you put a lot of effort into the setup getting the first thing done and a lot of times it's something that you just you can't go to the store to get it. And it could be for any number of reasons. Maybe it doesn't exist or maybe it's something you just can't afford the time to go in and do and you make it in your workshop. 3d printing in my mind really gives you a lot - you said leverage - you can draw a whole library of designs other people have made. You can tweak it you can edit in any way and make anything you want. And it fascinates me that, you know, 3d printing, really a lot of people don't know it started with the hobbyists. It really was something that the...

Ed Minchau: I think it even went further back than that, you know, I've been thinking about this and they call it, it's part of a class of manufacturing that they call additive manufacturing, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing where you like, say, Michelangelo when he was making the Statue of David. He started with a marble block and the Pope asked him you know how did you know where what to chip away? He says well I just cut away anything that isn't David. So he was subtracting from his original marble block until he ended up with that statue and it's the same when you're using a mill or a lathe or a bandsaw you know you're cutting away material to - starting with your original raw material - cutting away from it to make what you want. That's subtractive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing, which is 3d printing, I think it goes back to when we started using bricks as opposed to carving things out of stone. Like you look at - there's a site called Petra where there's a whole city that's basically carved out of the rock. You have another city in Cappadocia in what's now Turkey where it's carved out of the rock as opposed to you make an artificial rock - a brick - you make millions of them and then you can build any building you want. You don't have to carve it out of the rock. And this idea of additive manufacturing, it's really no different than laying bricks for a building, except now we're using different materials.

Charles Shults: Yeah absolutely well and the good thing about it is when you're doing subtractive manufacturing whether it's carving a statue or milling a block of aluminum into a piece for a machine if you remove too much you're hosed. You've got to rework your original block or you've got to start from scratch and I know that if you were ever carving a statue and oops that pinkie fell off it pretty much ruined the whole work and so additive manufacturing and gets around that by putting stuff back on that wasn't there in the first place. It's a great idea. And you know the original name as a matter of fact from the hobbyist standpoint was Santa Claus machines. Because the idea was you you could make anything you wished you know Santa Claus would bring it to you. And so Santa Claus machine didn't really stick, but it was an early term for it and I know in the mid 80s there were many many articles about it. In the original ones that were used in a very interesting capacity, they would take a cutting bit or a burr and they'd run it over a piece of circuit board stock and cut out the traces to make circuit boards and they would use a language called PostScript to program it and it was only later when they started melting bits of hot glue and sticking it on things and then later plastic where they actually came out with the other machines that make parts like the RepRap, an early entry into the end of the theater. All Hobbyist driven, sure.

Ed Minchau: Oh yeah because and and and that's why why it's it's so exciting for people who are doing hobbyist stuff, for people who are prototyping making things on their own is - you know this was a need that's only served by something that hobbyists themselves are making. I mean if you're if you're a big manufacturing concern, if you're Mattel, you know you're making toys you, don't want people making toys you want people buying toys from you, you know.

Charles Shults: Well you've got the mold expense and everything.

Ed Minchau: Exactly you want people buying your injection-molded stuff you don't want them buying stuff that they can make their own injection molds.if you're Mattel.

Charles Shults: Yeah but you know there's another point to look at and that is when you're doing a 3d printing job obviously it's a slow laborious sort of process the machine can take hours to make a simple thing whereas with injection molding you can knock out millions of pieces of junk in you know an hour. So there is a niche for everything. It's kind of like you wouldn't use the Volkswagen to carry a tank into a battle and you know...

Ed Minchau: Right, you'd use a flatbed truck. Right. But exactly. So the point I think we're both kind of getting here is that it's application is very important here. I mean if you're building some, if you're making something that you want to sell two million units of you're not going to be doing that on your home 3d printer and making them one at a time. You might make the mold from which you injection mold two million units you know if you're prototyping something you make - okay - you make your prototyp,e then you might make the mold itself with your 3d printer, and then you can get a production house to do the million units that you need.

Charles Shults: And you know that's a very good point that's an excellent point sometimes you use a 3d printer to leverage your job so you'll use a 3d printer which is a little slower and might not have the resolution you want to manufacture a part or a mold or something that's critical to going on to making thousands or millions of copies perhaps.

Ed Minchau: Yeah and okay so there is that if you're prototyping, we've gotten to that, but there's also one sector where you use these 3d printers for things that just cannot be made any other way and I was, in my research here on this topic, I was looking at SpaceX, the launch company in particular. They've got their manned launch vehicle that they're hopefully going to be flying in the next couple of years - they've got a launch escape system called the super Draco thrusters. This is also doubling as a soft landing system if it's not used as launch escape. And the engines that they're using are all 3d printed out of inconel, which is a high-strength nickel-iron alloy and very hard to work with once it's cast. It's very very strong, so they 3d print it by - they lay a layer of powder down on the table and then pass a laser over it which sinters the nano -  these tiny particles of inconel together, and then lay another layer of powder, another pass with the laser until they've their engine built up with channels through the walls that carry cold fuel through to keep the engine cool while its operating. You really can't mill those channels that are buried inside the inconel you have to print them it's the only way to make that engine.

Charles Shults: Well yeah okay there's an excellent point and think about how clever people had to be in the past to make parts like that. I know that when we did a lot of the aerospace and defense stuff and we we would have like say a specialty radar unit that had waveguides and it looked like rectangular pipes running all around inside it and the wave guides are all made of copper but they couldn't mill the interior of the pipes and they couldn't be cut and welded they had to be precise so what they would do is they would mill an aluminum piece that was the channel, the hole inside the pipe, and then they would plate it up they'd electroform it in a tank until they had a solid copper piece and then they would use a chemical that would eat the aluminum out of the middle of the pipe and leave a nice clean hollow pathway through the pipe. And then they'd machine the exterior of it down so it looked like...

Ed Minchau: That's a combination - yeah composite manufacturing - that's a combination of both additive and subtractive manufacturing. The plating of the copper is your additive process and then etching away the substrate is your subtractive process. So anyway I think we're getting now to a point - like you said it started with the hobbyists - but now we're getting to a point where the hobbyists have refined things and they found out what works, what doesn't, what's... certain standards have also evolved in the industry especially when you're talking about plastic. The home 3d plastic printers, they almost all use PLA type of plastic. They've standardized to two standards of sizes of plastic 1.75 millimeter and 3 millimeter so you can get the two different size extruder heads which melt the plastic and as your head is moving over the layer and precise patterns like - it just occurred to me we've never really explain how it's actually done today.

Charles Shults: That's true that's true we just kind of assumed that everybody knows that. Well if you want to give it a shot please.

Ed Minchau: Okay yeah basically the the modern plastic printers you've got three axes which are controlled by stepper motors usually. They precisely position your part in an X and Y plane - that's basically along the surface of your table - and there's a head that moves up and down, and the head as it starts off low on the table and lays down your first layer and then it raises up and then lays down the second layer and it just builds up layer by layer and it has to the head has to melt the plastic just a little bit so that it sticks to the layer below, and then the plastic has to cool right away so that it holds its form and basically that's all it does. The computer guides those three motors to move the table and the head, building up the part layer by layer, until you've got a completed part. That's basically it. It's simple to say in like one minute but in practice...

Charles Shults: Well yes getting a nice stable XYZ platform getting your lead screws to work properly and everything - fortunately like I mentioned the RepRap a little earlier. That was an effort where somebody, a group of hobbyists and hackers got together, came out with a machine and the theory was not only could have print anything you wanted within certain limits it could also print its own parts and the idea was it really goes back to something called the von Neumann machine that you know each resources makes copies of itself. Recently a joke emerged a couple years ago where a fellow says yeah I went to Walmart and I bought one of your 3d printers and I'm bringing it back because I just - I printed a printer with it and I don't need it anymore. Of course it doesn't work that easily because you can't print the electronics in the same way but that's another thing they're making inroads in that. They can actually print some semiconductors now. It takes a special cartridge of materials to do in a special printer but but it can be done. Now what fascinates me the most is that the people who played with the technology and came up with interesting applications have actually made inroads printing foods that was ...

Ed Minchau: Food?

Charles Shults: Yeah they were it was a joke to start with an art project that happened in New York and they made a 3d printer print food and so they would put like a little bit of pureed meat in an injector and a little bit of a celery and an injector and different materials and they would squirt out pastry dough meat celery whatever and they would make structures in it and 3d print specialty foods in forms that never existed before. And it was a novelty but it actually is catching on and now you can actually buy 3d food printers to make specialty objects.

Ed Minchau: Yeah I do know that cake decorators have gotten into 3d printing with chocolate and because it's actually a pretty good structure for for making you know light delicate things on a cake you can actually print in chocolate now and...

Charles Shults: Of course we all see you look at the disasters where you go to the the place that does the digital cakes and you get your cake back and it says [insert name here] instead of... somebody didn't fill a field out of the software. I hope that, you know, hope that doesn't happen they start making organs widespread.

Ed Minchau: Okay - organs - that's another one that I found this morning. They've started making replacement bone for facial reconstructive surgery. They used to take just like a chunk of leg bone that's not heavily load-bearing and then try and carve it up and then make that okay replacement for part of your jaw or whatever. Now - this was Johns Hopkins University - they take a 30%... a mixture of 30% powdered bone and they mix it with a plastic called polycaprolactone. It's a biodegradable polyester. And then they use the 3d printer to print that into the shape of like a jawbone and a little lower... like a mandible. And so it's - it can be the patient's own bone and you know their own stem cells and stuff and then they they just have it in this this structure they can replace a patient's entire jaw and it's... it's... instead of trying to make like a curve out of a straight bone there they're making like a perfect replacement jaw.

Charles Shults: Right.  Yeah.  Absolutely. Well and that's the thing, when you get into printing materials like bone there's a good reason for that and one of them is in the past replacement bone and medical applications had to be made from cadaver bone and, you know, you couldn't obviously donate your leg bone to fixing your face - you need your leg. But you know then the medical applications with the stem cells and bone cells - one of the things a lot of people miss is you have to have a scaffold material to hold up the structure you're making. Because, let's say you have a piece of sticks out of midair what do you attach it to when being drawn? So scaffolding plays a big part in medical 3d printing and making organs. I think the one thing that they're really having issues with right now is printing neural tissue inside medical structures. That's one of the things. I mean you can you can make cartilage you can make skin cells, cardiac muscle, you can make almost anything but getting it to knit together, like the bone you mentioned, the plastic serves to help knit the bone together in in other applications.

Ed Minchau: Yeah in this in this particular case it's it's basically it keeps those bone powder - which has all these proteins these growth factors for making new bone keeps them proximal where they need to be, and then your own stem cells take over from there and then grow a complete new jaw inside and over time the plastic is subsumed by the actual - the patient's own bone. At the end, at the end but you know it is the patient's jaw, it's got the same DNA it's the same it is your jaw. It's just you know rebuilt kind of thing.

Charles Shults: You know we have a buddy we have a common friend Joe Lacey we met out in New Mexico who was yes work on very lightweight fluffy concrete material, he would add fly ash and waste materials and it raised up like bread dough and then baked it and they could make this wonderful fireproof lightweight panel.

Ed Minchau: Yeah.

Charles Shults: He is - we spoke recently - he's building a 3d house printing system right now and we're gonna try and get him on the show. We talked briefly about getting an interview with him and he seems uh he seems ready to do that so we'll have him on some point in the future I believe.

Ed Minchau: Okay there is a hotel in the Philippines - I've got it written down somewhere..

Charles Shults: Well you know the Chinese are printing houses now that earthquake-proof with 3D printers.

Ed Minchau: Ah here we are... the Louis Grand Hotel in the Philippines they - they're building a extension onto the hotel and it's all 3d printed in concrete. And the guy who's doing it, he just started in his garage he came up with the method for 3d printing concrete and he made his kid castle in the backyard and that caught the attention of this entrepreneur the Philippines and so now he's 3d printing this extension on this hotel. I guess we can I can save all these links and then we can leave the links associated with the podcast later so...

Charles Shults: Sure I like to put them up on the page.

Ed Minchau: Okay. Anyway it's... it's pretty impressive looking. He's got some twisting concrete structures here. It's a huge thing and it's and... it's all going together like in one solid piece.

Charles Shults: Well that's - structurally that's a great thing the only thing that I see in the - in printed concrete that I - that I do worry a little about is there is no method of strengthening the concrete as you would if you say - let's say put fibers in it or something. I know that strengthening your concrete is a big thing because concrete has great compression strength but it has no tensile strength and that's why ...

Ed Minchau: That's why they put rebar in.

Charles Shults: Rebar, exactly. But I know you and I had worked with putting those plastic bone-shaped fibers and stuff and some of the stuff we did out in New Mexico and that was actually very helpful. It'd be great if we could get them to get those plastic fibers into the concrete as it is being printed in some way so that would all stick together and be a lot stronger.

Ed Minchau: Well, yeah sure... and I'm just sort of marveling at some of these pictures right now actually. This thing, it looks like he's got about the first floor just about finished on this thing, and it includes a concrete Jacuzzi.

Charles Shults: Yeah, I know you and I have had the experience of having concrete or stone or tile tubs. They're cold - they get cold really really fast. I think that's something we have to... we may not want a concrete jacuzzi.

Ed Minchau: This one looks double walled.

Charles Shults: Well now that's a good start that's a good start. If you blow some foam insulation in that probably work very well.

Ed Minchau: Probably.

Charles Shults: I think what, you know, what really fascinates me is a thought that we can put 3d printers in a spacecraft and have them assemble objects in space now.  Tell me what you think about that.

Ed Minchau: I think there's one on the ISS right now.

Charles Shults: Yes indeed they have one fabricator on the... on the space station right now that I'm aware of, but I think that if you really look at space travel, you can't send all the things you want up there. It's easier to send something they can eat normal natural resources wherever you go whether it's a lunar or an asteroid or whatever and 3d print what you want out of that.

Ed Minchau: Right. Okay, and that brings me to 3d printing on the moon.

Charles Shults: Absolutely.

Ed Minchau: There is a talk by Karsten Becker - he's part of the group called 'part-time scientists' that won the qualifying round of the Google Lunar XPrize.

Charles Shults: Yes, fascinting stuff.

Ed Minchau: And so now they've got like 11 full-time employees and they're looking to land near Apollo 17 and that's one thing, you know, just looking at the the rover that's been sitting there for 45 years and seeing how the materials have degraded over time and so forth. But their main thing is going to be testing out a 3d printing system using in-situ materials.

Charles Shults: Yeah in other words...

Ed Minchau: So there's different approaches, different approaches they're thinking of taking. One is by microwaving the dirt, the regolith.

Charles Shults: The regolith, right.

Ed Minchau: ...and that - microwaving it would melt it and turn it into a solid surface instead of a powder, and that's also very handy. You've got lots and lots of fine powder on the moon very thin layer, that's ideal for sintering.

Charles Shults: That is true. You know, I'm actually thinking you could even use focused sunlight for that, you wouldn't need anything as exotic as you know as microwaving it because, literally you have no clouds or weather, and the sunlight that you've got there is certainly powerful enough with a lens to sinter it together into a solid. But you know when you think about it it is kind of a limited resource because it is so thin on the surface if you start digging in underground - which to me makes the most sense, because the temperature would be stable year-round. So if you're going to build on the moon dig underground. You're going to get shielding from space radiation temperature differences and other things. So that's, you know, that's really important. But 3d printing on other planets, obviously you can use the raw material but if you also refine metal or whatever you've got that to work with.

Ed Minchau: Yeah they're also talking about using thermite..

Charles Shults: Thermite? (laughs)

Ed Minchau: Yeah thermite to melt it. Hey, you know, they know it'll burn!

Charles Shults: Yes, and also, we want enough things here - I know we talked about some interesting things - we want the listeners to come up with some good questions for us and so everybody who is listening, please submit some questions. Send them in on the on the forum or the email address and we'll address them live on the air. One of the things that comes to mind here when we get into construction is the structural materials aspect. Now, printing bone brought this back to me. A lot of materials we make are solid metals and yet if we could make them fluffy or bubbly like styrofoam they'd have some lightweight insulation capabilities and some nice durability. Now with the 3d printing they're capable of taking metals - and using laser sintering of course is the primary method - of making foamy, bone-like hollow structure that's extremely lightweight and this could not be done any other way. They've actually announced metals that have a structure that's so lightweight they're almost as light as air. Think about the applications of such a thing right now. What would you do if you could print you know the equivalent of styrofoam out of titanium.

Ed Minchau: Wow. Well I could tell you for one thing the Tour de France, all the records would be shattered.

Charles Shults: Yes no bicycle weight.

Ed Minchau: Oh man - bridges. Bridges built out of something like that... Yeah you know I shake my head sometimes, you know, it's like we're living in a science fiction future. You know even... even if you keep right on top of all of this stuff it's you still get a wow everyday.

Charles Shults: Oh yeah, it's just absolutely - we're getting close to the Singularity. That's another thing I like to do every show is the Singularity Watch, and some of these things would certainly qualify as entries. We're getting so close to the time where there is so much knowledge and information there's no possible way of keeping track of it all, and the advancements that come from it are just astounding. We've got an interview with a fellow who is a complexity scientist that I think everyone's going to really like and we get into that subject how complicated things are getting. Now, 3d printing in a sense is - like you said - it democratizes things, it's a unifying thing in so many ways. Any of us can have 3d printers, we can print anything we can imagine but we are kind of limited by our design ability. I think a lot of people who have 3d printers run up against 'gee how do I create the design for this particular part?' Do you know of any good software packages for designing 3d printing?

Ed Minchau: Well. I'd say first of all there's there's a repository of designs already made at Thingiverse. I believe there's a couple other ones where you could look at designs that other people have already come up with and if someone's already come up with your solution that you need you just download it and print it. And that's a part of the beauty of the hobbyist origins of the 3d market today is that so much of it is open-source, and people share their designs. You can also sell your designs, and there's people that do that and - but a lot of these designs you can just simply share and not have to do the design at all. But there are a lot of software packages out there - free ones - that let people design things that they want to later 3d print them. You can use Google Sketchup and there are ports that take that directly to G code that goes to your printer.

Charles Shults: Oh that's fantastic. Well that would also work with a small milling machines and CNC's as well. So yeah you get the best of both worlds you have additive and subtractive.

Ed Minchau: All these - yeah all these 3d printers they operate on G code just like your your CNC mills and lathes it's you know it's a standard and why reinvent the wheel? So they just use G code to operate the 3d printers too.

Charles Shults: That's ideal. That's ideal. All right so we've got - Wow we've got a - you know the half hour's just flown by here. Tell me, if you had anything in mind about 3d printing, what stands out in your mind the most? What's the most spectacular thing you can think about it?  Anything?

Ed Minchau: I'm thinking about when they when they start 3d printing on the nano scale that's - that's going to be a real game-changer. If they are able to 3d print structures out of few atoms instead of, you know, big bundles of PLA and stuff - if your home printer includes like a scanning tunneling microscope tip.

Charles Shults: Right exactly. And you've had some experience with that...

Ed Minchau: A little bit... I've... I really should put my microscope together actually. It's on my one of my 'to-do projects' lists behind about seven other things.

Charles Shults: Okay well Ed, I appreciate you coming on the show for this interview and I'm hoping we can get you in front of the mic for a lot of people and a lot of other subjects in the near future here.

Ed Minchau: I'd love to.

Charles Shults: Okay fantastic. Well that was Ed Minchau, and he's a good friend of mine, and he's going to be heard a lot more on this program in the future.


So this is part of the show where we get down to our Singularity Watch and we talk about some of the things that are changing in our world. In the first and most amazing story that I see - this is a couple of weeks since it's happened, but it's still very very salient - is a new robotic stingray. And this is - it looks like a living organism. It's printed out of basically silicone and living tissue and robotics parts. It is a robotic stingray that's partly biological, a true cyborg as the term is actually defined, a cybernetic organism. And it's powered by living heart cells. It actually has heart tissue in it, and those cells make it move. Now this is an interesting step, because we've reached a stage where we can have a fusion of living and technological components and produce synthetic organisms that are like biological robots. And another fascinating, fascinating piece of news is that Google's quantum computer has successfully simulated a single hydrogen molecule. Now, this might not sound like much, but believe it or not, a hydrogen molecule is a pretty complicated thing.

And the ability to use a quantum computer to simulate that molecule is an amazing step forward, because it means that we can begin simulating more and more complicated systems using quantum computing. Technology that is so much faster than traditional computing it makes heretofore impossible tasks actually something we can do now. And a final quick note on our singularity watch is that they are now teaching bacteria how to create wiring. Now, there were some notes in the past where they had found a bacterium that eats mine tailings or metals and would cover itself in tin - the metal tin - and the dead bacteria would actually form strands that were conductive like a wire. And this bacterium had been cultured and bred to the point where they could grow mats of the bacteria with these fine wiring properties and then electroplate them with gold and make conductive electrodes for batteries that had a huge amount of surface area and therefore made very complex structures. And, these structures add so much area to the electrodes of the battery that they can source a lot more power than a battery normally would. And so bacteria are now being trained to create wiring for other things as well, and this is a trend that we're going to see where we can script organisms or redesign organisms to actually do tasks for us in the near future. And with the growth of knowledge, this is going to be an extremely common sort of phenomenon.

So the singularity is coming, and we're reaching a point where almost magical sorts of things are happening due to Science and Technology everyday in our lives. And when is the singularity suppose to happen? You know I'd be surprised if it took twenty years, because the rate of growth of our knowledge has increased so rapidly we expect that what now takes a year to learn we can learn that much in six months. And as the timespan gets shorter and the knowledge just explosively grows our ability to figure out what happens will... it just won't be there. I mean we can look at a series of drawings of neighborhoods from at 1900 and we see the same sorts of structures as cities and neighborhoods have today. From 1900 1950, no real change. I mean there were changes in utility and some layout, but neighborhoods are still neighborhoods and homes are still homes, and businesses look pretty much the same as well. Very little has changed even with the addition of automobiles - over, let's say, animals such as horses - but at the root of it all we know that the way we live is really the same we have. The same requirements. The singularity may change all of that, because there are going to be people who make modifications to their own structure, their own bodies.

Already we see some pretty outrageous piercings and surgical modifications, things none of us would have imagined a decade ago, and with the ability to create artificial limbs or organs or enhanced senses or the ability to create entirely new bodies, and perhaps even upload your mind into them, we end up with a society where even the members themselves may not look human. And that's what the future may hold for us. One of the few things that we can imagine. So we have a number of pretty interesting questions tonight. One that came in from ABI 51 is: what is the best resolution of a 3d printer? That's a great question. Most of the ones that you buy for home printing are going to run at a fraction of a millimeter not - not incredibly smooth, a little bit grainy. They'll have a granular feel to them, call it about a tenth of a millimeter. Some of the laboratory models that they've made can actually use electron beams and nano powders and can create structures so tiny they've made an Eiffel Tower complete with all the grid work and the steel work in it. Yeah on such short notice I couldn't tell you exactly who did it, but I do remember seeing about three or four years ago: a model the Eiffel Tower that was less than a millimeter tall and have been made by electron beams and metal powder.

So this was, you know, an early exploration into how fine the resolution can be for such a machine. Now keep in mind that while it can produce an incredibly fine structure, it moves so slowly that it would take significant periods of time maybe years to print something useful. But, you know, you can be sure that when extremely fine resolution so smooth you could probably polish it to a mirror.

I have one here from Ken54truth - I guess that's Ken five for truth - and he says how much are good 3d printers? Now, anybody can use Google and find them. I guess 'good' as a relative term. I've seen home models for less than $300 and better resolution and larger ones for you know under 600, so it really is going to depend on what your application is, what you're trying to make. If you're just producing prototypes or pieces for homemade machines or gadgets then you're probably going to be able to knock out a lot of things for under $300 if it's a toy or a model or something like that. If you want something that's a little more resolution, you can literally spend tens of thousands of dollars on a good machine. So, I would say spend some time online do a little searching around and find things and it's going to determine - well your needs are going to determine what you get. If you just need plastic that's fine. You can actually find machines that'll print ceramic and then you can fire it when it's done. So again do a little searching online.

Now here's a good one 'anony moose' - that's a nice play on words - why don't we have replacement limbs now instead of the robot limbs? Robot limbs that companies are making - and does it make sense to wait a couple of years to get a real limb instead of getting a prosthetic. Yes, that cuts right to the nub - and that's not meant to be a joke. What we have right now is the ability to print some basics and biology. Yes, we can print some muscle tissue and organs and simple things, but the more complex a structure gets the higher your rate of failure is going to be. When you're printing an entire limb, you have to consider that not only do you have to print a good bone, that you have to print good muscle tissue and good tendons and the attachments to the bone. And you have to print so many elements that I would imagine that printing a limb is something that, at today's state of technology, you're going to produce the components for that limb and keep them alive in a - you know in a system, it's like a respirator box - and then assemble the parts with the help of some stem cells and you know organic glue, and get the whole thing put together.

So you'd probably go so far as printing the muscles first and the tendons and attachments, and you'd print the bone and you'd have to bond it together and then you would attach all of the bits and pieces and then you'd have to get the the nervous system attachments into the muscle tissue and in a wired way, and then you have to print the skin and the connective tissue. You know, what I'm not going to say that it's not going to happen in two years, I'd put my bets closer to five - but you know I've been surprised before. For now, if you really need a limb it doesn't hurt you to get a prosthetic, because they can actually make some pretty darn good prosthetics at this time. They don't give you full range of touch or anything like that, but they can give you enough to function and earn a living and, you know, not feel like people are staring at you because you've got a limb missing. Let's face it, we still do that. It's wired into us. It's a - it's a funny thing in our brain that, when we see something different or unusual, a lot of times our innate response is revulsion and we've got to get over that. We've got to be smarter than that. You know it does no service to ourselves or to our friends who've been injured or born without a limb. So, let's get over those things. And we will be able to fix anything and everything if that's what we desire and I again I put my bets on about five years time.

Here's one that also strikes a little close to home. Melvyn 2001 writes: is it possible to print a copy of a pet, maybe a pet that died? and I know we've we had a kitten that we lost a couple of months ago been a really sore spot with us. This is something that there are actually companies cloning pets. If you have biological samples they actually clone your pet. But understand, you know, whether you clone it or you print it it's still not the pet you started with. It's going to have differences. Consider that even identical twins will not have the same fingerprints and clones of people will not have the same fingerprints. And there are mechanical reasons that, combined with your genetics that make that happen. So you're not going to find that this is the same organism. It's not the same animal. It is just a copy, and if you know that, are you willing to simply forget that, or - you know - do we want the comfort for ourselves? This is a psychological need we have.

We feel grief when a friend dies or we lose a pet or somebody close to us and the grief is really not for them, it's about us. It's about how we feel. So let's also think about what makes us human. And I know that I'm getting off the subject here, but when we get into the subject of emotion and emotional thinking rather than rational thinking we can sometimes get into some pretty murky territory. But, if it brings you comfort to have a copy of your dead pet that's been cloned or printed or replicated in some manner, then you know go for it but recognize, if you're feeling bad, not for them. If they're dead, they're not feeling anything. They - they're not in pain. the pain is within us.

Now my book recommendation this week is an old book but it's a very very good book and it's one that stands the test of time in my opinion and it is Alvin Toffler's 'Future Shock' which was written in 1970. And he was a writer and a futurist who who had a kind of a view of the coming world who looked at how we respond to huge changes in our living, in our industrial society, and how we become overwhelmed when the things that we rely on suddenly aren't there or changed so greatly that we're unable to adapt properly. And he he looked at it as shattering stress and disorientation. You know, in other words, the person that is going to be successful in the future is not the one who can learn and learn, but the one who can unlearn what they think they know and learn again. And that's just kind of a - well it's kind of a misquote of him - but I would recommend that if you want to understand how people are adapting to these times we live in, read the book Future Shock and it will give you a lot of insight into the picture.

And finally as we're getting down to the end of the show, I think it's been a really good show, and you know I can't stress enough how these changes which seem remote, actually fundamentally affect our lives. I mean, nobody expected the sorts of changes we saw with all of the computation ability that we have now. That everything in our lives would be pried into and examined in such amazing ways, and some of them not so good. But we have to always maintain hope, because the developments that we have are things that are supposed to make our lives easier. And we always have to inject the human side or the emotional side into things; logic alone doesn't get us there. We have to understand the other person's standpoint. 3d printing is one of those great equalizer technologies that allows everyone to make anything that they need, and when it's fully realized it will fundamentally change our world. We probably won't see factories and manufacturing the way we do. And that's a point that really really has to be very clearly made. Right now we depend on all of our materials for tools and industry to be made by heavy manufacturing and machining and casting, and that may be something that goes away in the near future.

But one thing that we always have to stress is that we have everything here, we simply need to apply a little wisdom and a little knowledge to get solutions to our problems. My favorite saying is we have everything we need to make everything we'll ever need. And on that note, just remember no matter how amazing that this world becomes, we all have a part in it and we can all make it better, just by doing a little bit. Have a great day. I hope you've enjoyed the show, and we have another great show coming up for you next week. This is your host Sir Charles Shults. Thank you for listening to Talk Universe.

Tuesday 30 May 2017

Transcript, Episode 2: Are we destroying our world?

You can listen to this show here or watch it on YouTube here.

Welcome to Talk Universe. I'm your host Sir Charles Shults and this is the show for Wednesday, July 20th, 2016. We're addressing a very serious issue in this program: are we destroying our world? Last week's show of course we talked about whether we have the potential to be living in a virtual world, whether actually live in a simulation, and that's an unresolved question, but there's some interesting things to consider.

This show is a little more serious, and in this show we're going to look at some of the things that lead us to believe that we're probably destroying the planet we live on - and there are a lot of signs of that - and I also have a guest. I'm going to be interviewing Charles Ostman, who is well known for a lot of his research and science and he's a wonderful presenter of the facts and the viewpoints. He's referred to as the "historian of the future" and he does work in nanotechnology, among other fields and he's going to bring us some really interesting viewpoints and perhaps a little clarity to the question.

So let's get started with the show. I want to start out with the thought that a lot of the things that we see in our world today are clear indications that the activities of the human race are posing a serious threat to the biosphere and the habitability of our world, and people are aware that species of plants and animals are vanishing at an alarming rate. There are many species that have died out that we will never know even existed.

We also are doing things by injecting poisons underground - the fracking movement - to obtain the last little bit of gas and oil that can be wrenched out of the rock, and in that process we are destroying the water table. We are injecting toxic materials and solvents underground into the rock and it leeches into the water table and that's an irreversible bit of damage.

When you destroy the barriers between the chemicals that are locked up in the rocks and the water that we depend on to drink and support our agriculture and our daily activities, you realize that you punctured the barrier and there's no going back. You can't go half a mile or a mile underground and fix the rock that you have exploded and it's leaking.

There are other things going on as well. We have the intrusion of chemicals from the drugs that we use that end up in the biosphere, so we have drugs that are hormones and modifiers of mood and treatments for various illnesses and these chemicals are typically not metabolized. Many of them end up in their original state in the environment in our water, and tests of our water supply have shown incredible levels of psychoactive and body messaging type drugs that cause the tissues in your body to do things, and these drugs are present in our water. They're in just about everything you drink, along with chemicals of other sorts of ends up in the water.

We all know about the Flint water crisis and the discovery that many communities have pretty badly lead-contaminated water and it seems that nothing is being done about that. I know that when I was a child, we would drink the water straight out of the tap, and it tasted good. It was fine, and today we don't dare drink that water without having some sort of filtration system, and a lot of times if you taste the city water it tastes like dirt or plastic. So there is serious contamination in our water and it's an issue that, if not addressed, is just going to get worse and it's going to result in a lot of fatalities at some point in my estimation.

We are putting things in the atmosphere that we cannot remove easily and on the upside we've seen that since we banned the use of freon propellants in aerosol cans that the ozone hole is actually recovering, and that's a positive note, that the ozone hole is becoming smaller every year because the chemicals we produce that were destroying it are dissipating. They're being broken down and they do naturally decay over time. It just isn't a a rapid process. So the ozone hole issue is about to become a non-issue, which is a good thing. I think that there are many different ways that we're wrecking the world and we're going to examine some of those tonight and see exactly what's going on, get some opinions from Charles Ostman, and see what he thinks and see if we can't find some sort of solutions. Let's try to identify the root cause of all the ills we have, and see what we know that we can do about it.

Now one of the first things I want to do before we get into all the gloom and doom and the possible solutions is I want to do the Singularity Watch. One of the features we do here every week is we have a look at how the growth of computing and information is going to change our world, and there's a point that people theorize we're going to reach called the singularity.

The singularity is a point where we can no longer predict what happens next, and it's thought to be the point when things basically shift in such a radical way that the materials, the computing the information all converge in some manner to create some unpredictable event. We don't know what it will be but it's going to be either cataclysmically bad or cataclysmically good or possibly no discernible effect. We don't really know but it's something to be concerned about.

One of the things I like to do is look at technologies that are developing and how the world is changing and expose some of that to people so they know what to expect.  So one of the interesting stories I see here is related to quantum computing and it's been notoriously difficult to make low-cost quantum computers and one of the reasons is they require cryogenic temperatures.  You have to supercool a lot of the components in order to make it work.  Now this means the cost of liquid nitrogen or refrigeration is a major concern when you're doing quantum computing.

So recently they discovered that using the material in mothballs, naphthalene, it's possible to make quantum computing at room temperature and this was an article published in Nature communications and they said that when they burn naphthalene it produces tiny carbon nanospheres.  I think they're referred to originally as bucky balls and these nanospheres of carbon, which they demonstrated on some scale are extremely uniform and easy to produce; these nanospheres store qubits, the quantum bits, the basic units of quantum computing and they can store them at room temperature for a period of 175 nanoseconds.  Now that doesn't sound like long- that's a billionth- a billionth of a second however it's more than long enough for quantum computing and longer than the storage times for graphene which they thought was a very promising material for this technology.

Now this can bring the cost down by removing the need for ah cryogenic cooling and now all they really need to do is build a functioning device using the material and they seem really optimistic about it.  So they've got a new material it works at room temperature doesn't require any refrigeration and it could bring quantum computing, who knows, to the palm top very quickly.

Another interesting story and it's also the small scale I think you're going to discover that a lot of the advancements we're looking at happen at the very, very small scale.  There is a company that has worked out a means of producing smart dust components.  Now if you don't know what smart dust is: one of the projections of nanotechnology is the ability to make dust-sized computing devices or robotic devices and smart dust would be literally dust that has computing and actuating properties and can be made to do jobs or gather information.  They've discovered how to make cameras small as salt grains; at least the lens components.  University of Stuttgart published a paper in Nature Photonics and they describe a 3D printing technique that makes lenses that are only a hundred twenty microns in diameter.

That's about size of salt grain and they're made with a commercially available nano scribe 3D printer.  Now what this means is it can lead to making tiny sensors, cameras, and things as small as sand or dust.  This is just the beginning and they... they have the idea that theoretically this could bring about the creation of smart dust, so think about the dust in your corner could actually be thousands or millions of little robots.

A third news piece I see here- they've discovered in our world and this should not be a surprise- our world depends on processes and systems that are so complex that it's now impossible for any single human mind to comprehend them.  We've created a system that has now produced unexpected groundings of airline flights and short-period micro crashes in the stock market and systems that unexpectedly shut down for reasons that nobody can explain.  In some ways our world, our technical world, has become entangled so that effects in one system can have effects on other systems to the point where unexpected results such as crashes, unexpected behavior, or shutdowns occur. Now, it's being compared to trying to predict the weather and it may only get worse.

You see, some of the software's a little buggy and the certain types of bugs that exist only show up in extreme conditions or unexpected conditions and in some cases, three or four systems that are working properly when put together show emergent behavior; unexpected operation that nobody would have predicted because they didn't foresee the conditions that those systems would be operating in.  So we've reached the stage of complexity that is outside of human comprehension and it's not going to get any simpler.

So I'm going to start out by looking at some of the issues we're facing.  I mentioned the depletion of the gene pool; species becoming extinct.  That's ah,  that's definitely one of the problems were facing.  We've fished out 90% of the oceans and they're being polluted and everybody is aware the Fukushima disaster and the Gulf of Mexico and the oil spills there, so we have radiation and petroleum and plastics in our ocean and all of the oceans are contaminated at this point and we have to do something to get that plastic out and it isn't a difficult problem but it's just getting people to do it.  There are so many of these things that we have solutions to and nothing seems to be done.

In fact in some cases they're actually laws in place that prevent us from taking action and this is absolutely short-sighted and literally criminal!  When we have a problem and we have laws that prevent us from fixing that problem then the law is immediately suspect we have to do something that fixes the problem.  If you're standing there bleeding to death and somebody says well it's against the law for me to help you, how do you resolve that from a moral standpoint?

You see, it isn't about legality, it's about getting things done and doing them in a way that doesn't harm people but actually helps people. But I'm digressing.  I want to finish by kind of quantifying our issues of species depletion and overfishing the oceans and polluting the oceans; polluting our atmosphere and putting chemicals in our water supply whether advertently or inadvertently; making our water toxic.  We have so many things we're doing wrong right now and one of the biggest debates is over climate change and it was originally referred to as global warming but we see that it isn't necessarily warming, and to be absolutely fair, I have to point out that when you inject more energy into the weather system it doesn't necessarily mean the entire planet gets hotter.  Instead it means that the weather can become more energetic or chaotic. Now

I've recently become aware that a lot of scientists are depending on what's known as gas bubbles to determine whether the carbon dioxide level of our atmosphere has been rising, and yes, there's some pretty good evidence that it is.  One of the things however that I have a contention with is this.  Many of the gas bubbles that they're using for this as evidence are bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice.  Bubbles that are thousands of years old and they're analyzing the contents, the gas contents of these tiny bubbles trapped in the ice and trying to determine what the percentages of the different gases are inside these bubbles.

This is... this is something that actually is highly suspect to me because of the simple fact that carbon dioxide and some other gases can dissolve in ice and migrate through ice and it can leave the bubble it can enter the bubble.  So the bubble is not like a glass jar; it is not a sample of the atmosphere that can necessarily be reliable, and so when we start seeing these charts of the CO2 levels from thousands of years ago, we have to have some red flags go up right away, because the first and primary indicator of carbon dioxide should probably be tree rings, and the evidence of plant growth, because in periods where there's a lot of CO2, the trees, the plants, will grow to match the amount of CO2 that's available.

Remember, carbon dioxide is plant food and the lower the levels of the atmosphere are, the harder it is for plant life to grow.  The higher the levels of CO2, the much easier- it's much, much easier for plants to grow in periods of high carbon dioxide.  So we can't even tell where all the carbon dioxide, where all the CO2 is going now, and it turns out that huge amounts of it are being sequestered in the roots of plants; in particularly trees, and so for some reason, a lot of it's disappearing and nobody knows where it's going.

Now the major absorber of CO2, and of course balancer of our climate, is our oceans and the smartest thing for us to do, it would seem to be, is to get kelp growing in the oceans; surface kelp, and that stuff will absorb amazing quantities of CO2 and actually there have been pilot programs to put materials in the oceans that act to fertilize the growth of phytoplankton, the tiny organisms that absorb primary sunlight and CO2 out of the ocean and to see if we can begin to reverse this depletion trend.  Now actually it works very well.

The two things that limit the growth of the microorganisms of the ocean tend to be iron and silica.  You see, they don't make their shells out of calcium carbonate like in limestone, like regular clams and other things that you're familiar with. They make their shells out of silica which is like glass and silica is difficult to get into solution to, to degree.  So an experiment was done where they actually put sodium silicate which is a solution of silica into the oceans and they also put iron sulfate or ferrous sulfate in the ocean and when these two materials were added, suddenly the microscopic organisms that are the basis of the food chain exploded into life and they produce an extremely curious form of pollution known as fish.

And so this is a process that is easily done, can easily rectify a lot of the depletion and in fact there was a fellow who did this and they legally tried to stop him.  There are actually laws in place to prevent this sort of thing from being done.  He did manage to get away with it and it did work and he had a much larger yield of fish than he had previously.

So we do have a tool that allows us to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and clean up parts of the ocean and this tool is actually not being used; it's actually being stopped.  Now, American businessman Russell George actually carried this experiment out by putting a hundred twenty tons of ferrous sulphate in the oceans two hundred nautical miles west of Haida Gwaii in the Pacific Ocean and he had a result of the growth of phytoplankton over about ten thousand square miles and they actually showed an increase, a huge increase in the fish population in the area.

This was done in 2012.  He was part of a salmon restoration project and in May 2013 they fired him because of all the controversy over whether what he did was illegal or not and they claimed he was dumping wastes into the ocean when he was actually fertilizing it.  The interesting thing is the next year in 2014 Alaska reported a record salmon harvest for the previous year.  So whether what he did had the effect or not there certainly was something that gave a huge increase in the salmon population and on that note, we're going to take a break.

So anyway it's time to introduce our guest and Charles Ostman has over thirty five years of experience in the fields of electronics, physics, materials science, computing, and various forms of applied AI and artificial life including eight years at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory at the University of California in Berkeley and Los Alamos National Laboratories so he's worked on a lot of different, amazing projects and he's a nanotechnologist by trade and so he's going to have some great ideas and some great opinions about the problem.

Charles Shults: So Charles Ostman, welcome to the show.

Charles Ostman: Thank you, Charles.

Charles Shults: So how would you describe our world situation right now?  I mean what do you see it as- what's the root cause of the way things are?

Charles Ostman: Okay, I would look at this sort of like the way a heroin addict is addicted to ever larger doses of heroin.  The planet is addicted to the sort of petro dollar economic platform energy model, as it were, and we're going to ever more desperate means to get at this, you know, drug is a word, that keeps our energy platform going.  So a couple of different ways of looking at this... Now, I happen to be a big proponent of synthetic biology as a solution for a variety of problems of which one could be a different approach to how we look at energy and a way of it- in other words, a way of abating the really harmful aspects of drilling for oil.

Charles Shults: In other words, possibly using synthetic organisms to create our fuel supply I'd say.

Charles Ostman: And let me just expand slightly... in geological timescales, our place in this planet's like a blink of an eye and even if we wipe ourselves out through our own stupidity, at some point- which is quite possible of course, at some point you know many milennia from now, yes, the planet will go on.  It'll recover, the biodiversity will come back, you know for many millennia, and who knows, maybe some other life form will evolve.  Maybe not us humanoids maybe it would be something else, who knows but you know this whole thing will repeat over again.  But one of the things we've left behind, the residue of our existence here is that we've gone after all the low-hanging fruit; in other words we've dug giant holes in the Earth, we've gouged out enormous amounts of minerals to supply our sort of high-tech industry as it were and in parallel with that probably the largest, most damaging aspect of that was our drilling for oil and going to extreme measures like fracking.  In other words, go back a century you know, oil bubbled out the ground.  You could just drill a few feet in the ground if you're in the right place and suddenly oil would come gushing out.  Well, we kind of drained all that.  Now we're going for ever more extreme measures; going into ultra deep sea well digging which has had its own share off horrible dilemmas as we have all seen and...

Charles Shults: You mean like the gigantic spills in the Gulf of Mexico.

Charles Ostman: Exactly, exactly, and now of course we're going to this even more extreme measure of fracking and I've actually spent some time in the fracking universe some time ago.  The whole idea of creating vertical chemical retorts where you- if deep underground you, you grind up shale, you use different means to sort of extract the oil from the shale et cetera, and now we're digging up tar sands and just all kinds of things where the residue of our presence will, will leave long-term scars, will take many, many millennia to recover from what that is.  In other words, even if a different civilization evolves many millennia from now, they're going to have to kind of go back to where we were and a lot of low-hanging fruit available will no longer be there though, they'll be forced to-  go to extreme measures to get at the same resources we sort of squandered rather stupidly now.

Charles Shults: We've taken all the easy targets, it would be much tougher for them, wouldn't it?

Charles Ostman: Yep, so is there a different way of looking at this?  And one way might be aside from the usual suspect alternative energy platforms you know solar and wind, etc.  The idea is can we come up with different means to come up with our chemistries,  the things that petro chemistries are used for, not just for gasoline or for fuel but for plastics and for many of the other sort of components that make up most the technology that we're familiar with.

Charles Shults: Well, in other words, artificial systems that make new fuels for us.

Charles Ostman: ...and actually there's a lot to be said for this.  It's kind of why I'm so bent on synthetic biology because even though there is a dark side to synthetic biology, one of the positive sides is we can use biology as a kind of a manufacturing platform.  Can you genetically modify different kinds of microbes for instance to produce the equivalent of these petrochemically derived materials, but without having to resort to such extreme measures as fracking is, and I think so. Should this be a larger more prolifically developed agenda, absolutely!  However because of the fact that the world's economic systems are so tightly wound around the geopolitical strategic enterprise of sort of protecting the oil-based economy as it, is it's not really a technology question.  It's  more of an economic assistance question; that's how I see it.

Charles Shults: Well, we, you know, for instance we have potential solutions and this is really an issue.  We've got to define destroying our resources as evil because we have resources, you know, we have everything we need in so many ways.  The the problem isn't the lack of resources or how hard it is to get to them because we know how to do those things; the problem it really comes down to evil and by that I mean you know corporations and governments running things instead of using the common sense that a lot of everyday people have - its evil.

Charles Ostman: I, yeah, no, I do agree with you and so the first question pops up and I don't need to be coy, I'm just saying you know as a sort of expertorial exercise, no, define moral or define evil. In other words what might look like a very reasonable moral imperative to say you or I or maybe people listening to this program may be very different in the eyes or mentality of others and this is what makes the human condition so interesting but also so challenging and you know not to wander off topic a little bit but in the world of AI which we'lll probably talk about that later in this interview, the huge question is well, can you translate the equivalent of moral or ethical boundaries into non-human intelligences, and so in an odd kind of way, the very question you bring up this moment, even just within the matrix of the sort of human condition as it were, can we define what those ethical or moral boundaries should be in the scheme of a sort of a larger, planetary scale way of looking at things.

Well, that very question mark becomes even more questionable as we steps into this kind of AI centric universe that we're sort of heading towards.  But back to your original question, it really depends on the level of cooperation that people can find value in.

Charles Shults: Well, I think I mean if you look at cooperation as being defined as something we need to survive absolutely.

Charles Ostman: And getting back to the sort of economic systems model I was just referring to a few minutes ago.  In order to get to where you want to go as you're describing it, it will require a major upheaval, almost like an evolutionary scale correction of sorts, to get people to change from the traditional status quo kind of top-down, big scale economic systems model- which, in today's world is very much based on consumerism.  In other words, Henry Ford kind of applying your- this idea really to an extreme but but going from the you know Henry Ford model onward, the vision there was, the way the economy is going to stay afloat and the way the economy is going to grow, we're, we're addicted just like back to the heroin model; we're addicted to a perpetual growth-dependent economic systems model. That is, it's not just a matter of "do people have enough to have a good life?" No, no, no, no, the way to evaluate a economic sort of evaluation system of sorts is the rate of growth.  The growth has to be more this quarter than it was the previous quarter et cetera, etc., which means you have to sell more stuff!

Charles Shults: Well, that's the whole problem, I mean, we're faced with this illusion that we can just perpetually grow and grow and that's not normal.

Charles Ostman: Which means they have to manufacture more stuff even, if it means the stuff that you're producing is by far and for the most part unnecessary and waste and you know the short term throw aways.  If you go back to an earlier time, you know, previous to the Henry Ford era, people used to build things that were designed to last a long time.  People handed them down...

Charles Shults: Well actually about a hundred years ago everybody was off the grid and everybody grew their vegetables and they made the things that they needed and they had neighbors that made things and so everybody worked together and they, they were off the grid and somehow we all end up on the grid and dependent on the world and...

Charles Ostman: Well not only that, but in terms of mass psychology there's a great book that came out quite some time ago called the madness of crowds and I'm kind of a phenomenologically oriented person I look at large trends and phenomena as they affect masses of humanity and this are these sort of macro trends so I kind of operating a totally different scale but the madness of crowds was a good example of sort of a statistical analysis of how a certain level of momentum is achieved when a, when a bunch of folks are all of a sudden motivated to go towards something like, like look at the shiny bauble over there.  Then there it takes on a life of its own and that drives markets, it drives economies, and of course the science of being able to engineer these sort of buying frenzies so... almost like a school of piranhas going after a fresh chunk of meat.  There's the entire economic systems platform at the Western world for the most part is really based on extremely short term life cycles for different kinds of commoditized products.  The science of engineering the sort of emotional button-pushing, the psychology of getting mass momentum to go to make a brand suddenly become the more valuable brand that whole thing and believe me when I tell you that most the people I know who were sort of at the high end of the tech universe- this is what they're trained to do!  They're, they're in this real-time 24/7 365 all the time everywhere omnipresent marketing universe, where their whole existence and their ability to thrive as an entity as a economically viable unit, is measured not by the value of the thing they produced but rather the commoditization of short-term buying cycles.  I mean it's, it's like another one of these addictions sort of scenarios.

Charles Shults: Well it's pretty clear that the value has to be in the product.  I mean, you know, it's growth isn't a measure of success for a planet if we- we buy a lot of cheap junk for a few dollars and it ends up in the landfill and we've not got...

Charles Ostman: Correct.

Charles Shults: ...what we need in the long term to solve the initial job, to do the job, so the problem is we're consuming things at an incredible rate to produce five or six things- machines, let's say that they'll do a job and then break, instead of spending a little more time and a little resource and making one device that'll last you 30 years that will do the same job or it's easy to repair that device.  So the value has to be in the product and growth is not a measure of success.  The ability to stay alive in the Old West didn't mean you had to be growing like mad, you simply had to produce your food and keep your devices working and your animals safe.  So what is the real value of something when you're dependent on these things.  Life itself is supposed to be what's valuable not not the things that you own.

Charles Ostman: Well, experience actually that's what's called the experience come-  blah,  can't talk any more... The experience economy where as the epicenter of values shifting away from something you hold in your hand and shifting much more towards something that you experience and actually there's a quite a bit of trend going in this direction; people are even writing research papers in the psychology of this idea et cetera  etc., but but in the sort of social media universe that is where things are heading memories...

Charles Shults: So you know, we need to find real value and where is that?

Charles Ostman: Let- less reliance on how many gadgets do I have my hand this moment and much more as what is the quality of experience, but but if I can go backwards just a little bit.  There was a really famous film that came out back in the early 1960s called Forbidden Planet and for those who may not be familiar, I'll try to summarize.  It was a fantastically on-point, very relevant to today's, you know, momentary synopsis of what's going on but as a perfect encapsulate the brilliance of its story actually is something to behold.  Aside from the kind of Hollywoodish aspects of Robbie the robot and the scantily-clad you know, young teenage girl that was the center point of the movie's attraction etc.  The the real message was here he had this planet with this organize- er, civilization called The Krell, which by the way is a type of plankton but I digress, heh heh, so the Krell had developed this platform where they had direct neural interface with a fusion engine you know buried deep underground and this fusion engine is like a star, essentially a contained star, so they had an infinite energy supply and the whole point was they thought that by inventing this system where everything everybody could go online and then whatever they could think of, whatever they could dream of, they would have instantly.  In other words it was a way to escape from freedom of want, that no longer relying on the stuff you have or the stuff even touch or see there'd be no longer any greed or avarice or coveting the physical things. This was seen as the ultimate solution, kind of like what you were suggesting just a minute ago.  However, however dot dot dot what was their undoing?  What caused them their...

Charles Shults: Well, it was their own minds; it was uh what's deep in our, our subconscious you know, there are things down there that we're not aware of.

Charles Ostman: The punch line was monsters of the id.  And if you may recall there was a famous scene where the ship's doctor, you know, he's actually in the heart of the Krell's laboratory and he puts on the brain booster device and he zaps it up to a higher level so he can sort of understand what happened and he dies in the process but just before he dies he grabs the captain, the commander of the ship and says I know what killed them.  I saw it myself it was monsters of the id and then the rest of the film kind of proceeds where this giant invisible horrible monster thing, you know, kills a bunch of the crew and just go through all this lunacy trying to deal with this thing and that's kind of what helped with the Krell. When all the millions of Krell went online simultaneously and said, "okay, I'm going to dream if anything I want and just have it", what they did not realize was that their inner subconscious would also become physically manifest and so it created all these horrible creatures which killed them all. So, maybe that's kind of a simplistic way of looking at it, but I would suggest to you that he had to draw a chart - you know graph of sorts - and you plotted out the rate of technology development, which in just in the last couple of decades is almost a vertical line compared to all the previous millenia that have come up to this point, but then you had to also map out what I might call the spiritual maturity indexes - like another line in the same chart - I would suggest that those two lines are still pretty far apart. And the test or measure of any civilization of any given planet's ability to sort of progress past this point right now into the next evolutionary step - whatever it might be - those two lines have to be pretty close together. That's where the real question mark is. It's not doing - like you were so correctly pointing out just a minute ago - it's not so much "do we have technological answers to solve some problems"? I think we do, but "do we have the spiritual maturity to actually..

Charles Shults: Well we have solutions almost every problem but we don't seem to be applying them properly you know the right way.

Charles Ostman: Use those technologies in a more appropriate way.

Charles Shults: So could you pick, in your opinion, the top three issues or problems we are facing because - I know we agree on things like fracking and poisoning the water table, that's a very bad idea and it's a big problem, and the loss of species a loss of different biodiversity is a big problem and we also agree that change in climate, well, you know, some of those issues are questionable and I think we can get over a lot of that. You know it is an issue, it's a dangerous thing, but if you could summarize, what would you say were the top three issues about planetary destruction that we're facing?

Charles Ostman: Oh my, wow take three out of the you know 14 dozen I've included? Again, well, okay so I think harm to the biodiversity of our planet is a really big one, that's that's my opinion. And let me explain why I say that. Because now I work with plants a lot, well you know I'm not a botanist, I'm not by any means a plant physiology specialist by any stretch of the imagination, but I do work with a lot of people who are, and we have eradicated just unbelievably - horrific actually - extinction of many different species before we even knew what they had to offer what they might possibly be relevant for in some future application. And you can't capture them. Once those genetic strands are gone they're gone. So whatever we can do to protect what biodiversity still exists, it's not just a thing of preserving the beauty of nature - no, it's a much more practical thing. In other words, many of the solutions that may solve some of these future difficulties we're facing actually come from the world of biology and in particular the world of botany, so I would say the damage to biodiversity is one. Climate change is a really tricky one, because as I'm sure you all know as well, we've actually - this planet has gone through many climatic cycles in the past.

I mean extreme examples actually. Geological records prove this quite readily. Now, can one argue that recent activity here by humankind has accelerated a current trend as it were? I would say yes, however the degree to which Carbon has been seen as the - you know - evil progenitor of demise of our planet I think it's very very misleading, and it has a lot more to do with a global carbon tax initiative and the marketing of carbon trading credit futures and the same people in Wall Street that engineered the mortgage-backed security and derivatives debacle of 2008 are exactly doing the same thing with Carbon credits. I mean, it's it's a very iffy nebulous terrain to get into it to determine exactly where is the boundary between a naturally occurring cycle and these sort of invented cycles that are seen more as an economic model?

Charles Shults: Well there are turning this into economics and profit rather than actually solving the problem, trying to buy and sell "you get to pollute and I won't" certificates.

Charles Ostman: It is difficult.

Charles Shults: Well, it's done for profit instead of solutions.

Charles Ostman: Now the one thing I will offer is that the number one driver for climatic change on this planet, aside from a cosmic event like an asteroid or a comet crashing into the planet - and there's been several of these by the way - is the sun.

Charles Shults: Well absolutely it's the sun, virtually all the energy for weather it comes from the sun.

Charles Ostman: And the Sun stars are not static, as I'm sure you all know, they're dynamic entities. They go through cycles, they go through macro cycles, they go through cycles of macro cycles, etc. In fact, one of the people I spent a lot of time with in Berkeley before I moved out here, he was a specialist in doing exactly this, analyzing solar activity patterns. And what's kind of interesting is - I live just down the street from the SSL or Space Sciences lab, and for a number of years it was pretty low-key. You know, a few dozen scientists were there and it's just kind of a little adjunct side building off to the rest of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory campus.

And then, and than as you may recall, going back to the early 2000s, there was a dramatic change in the solar sunspot cycles. There was a lot of interest in why all of a sudden the Sun was acting differently than it had been for previous 11-year cycles. And so...

Charles Shults: Actually I had a running conversation about this at the time with Dr. Janet Asimov who was the widow of Dr. Isaac Asimov, and the concern was about solar flares and solar max and the potential for the flares knocking out the power grid.

Charles Ostman: There's a lot of concern over if we suddenly got a huge solar flare would wipe out our power grids and cause all sorts of damage to our satellites. There's a big - all of a sudden the upsurge of interest in this sort of thing - so overnight almost, the SSL went from kind of a sleepy background to like jam-packed 24/7. They quadrupled the number of people working there, and one of the people I've spent a lot of time with, who lived at the same house I was in, he was a specialist in looking at exactly “what was the Sun doing and why was it doing it?” So, I think to not look at the Sun as being a primary driver of these sort of climatic variance is kind of missing the point really. Now, does carbon have a influence in this? Yes it does. However, remember now, plants consume carbon! Duh. It kinda depends on how you look at this.

Charles Shults: You know obviously if they were really concerned about this being a carbon dioxide issue they'd be planting something, and I don't see any governments planting trees.

Charles Ostman: One would think! Gee, what a concept!... Okay, so let me just continue though, if I may. So the things that I do look at as being actually much more realistic and more much more fun - and you sort of tapped into this slightly by talking about planting things - so, if you look at the rate of deforestation, if you look at terraforming, what I am calling bio- terraforming on a huge scale (and I spent - I've been to Brazil three times in fact a lot of times I spent but at the time actually about a hundred miles west of Manaus which is like in the dead center of the Amazon rainforest) and so I saw firsthand how much the deforestation was already taking place. This goes back to the 1980s.

You know from space you can see, you see desert desert - cannot talk - desert type regions that had once been forested or now either desertized or they've been converted into huge mono crop sort of corporate farm facilities, as it were. So, when you radically change the vegetation that was native to those areas - like in the blink of an eye - you suddenly change the respiration and also the thermal convection currents and the amount of water vapor of course that's being recycled in that area. Then you combine that with huge population centers we have tens of millions of people jam-packed in these enormous cities - and we've all seen the growth curve on these various huge cities - which are not just a bunch of people there but it's a bunch of infrastructure and traffic and you know buildings and all sorts of things which generate hotspots. And then you combine that with industrial sites which are of the same scale and suddenly you've created all these enormous thermal convection currents which never existed before combined with a massive planetary scale sort of bio terraforming which radically changed the precipitation patterns and thermal convection patterns in those areas. So that, at least as I see it, would have a far more serious effect on climatic variables than the supposed amount of carbon that's going the air at any given point in time. However...

Charles Shults: Oh well, you know you make me think of Mexico City. I mean that's an area where they changed the whole weather pattern in the area.

Charles Ostman: Well Mexico city it certainly one of them.

Charles Shults: Yeah, what happened was when they built Mexico City they didn't realize that the dust and particulates in the air we're going to nucleate all the rain clouds and all the moisture making rain near Mexico City and the result was the surrounding air right it became even more desert than it had been before because of the all this lack of rain that was ending up near the city. So we changed the whole area.

Charles Ostman: Exactly right. Now you've precisely identified that very process and that process is, by the way, taking place in China, it's taking place all over Asia, various parts of South America etc. I mean it's it's a very specific mechanism and we've seen it time and again. So here's where it gets to be a bit more complicated: it's very easy to point the finger at the evil offending carbon and develop an economic systems model where you can then trade carbon credits as a way of leveraging debt - and I don't want to go into a bunch of complicated trade sort of schemes that are going on - but it's quite a process actually. That's very much easier and much more simple for the general public to look at and say, "okay, there's a shiny bauble, let's all look at that." Whereas if you try to present them more complex and much more difficult to sort of unravel mechanism just described with giant population centers etc this is this is not going to be an easy sell. You kind of have to convince people to
radically change a socio-economic systems model which has been sort of on its momentum accelerating along in its own pace.

How do you - sort of politically if you will - make the depopulation of areas and sort of reversing these gigantic sort of concentrated MetroCenter-like ways of planning and developing economics around these sort of emergent economic systems models - how do you reverse that? That's a much more difficult sell and politically nobody wants to touch that, so you go after the low-hanging fruit, the obvious easy target. You know invent this thing called carbon and make that the big thing. So this is just a kind of a small snapshot really of the complexity of trying to get at the human condition and the reasoning processes that people utilize, and the alternative motives which are often wound up in self-serving political and sort of geopolitical / economic interest as opposed to what actually makes a common sensor is closer to the truth.

Charles Shults: Well you know I think that this is a real issue because if you have somebody who's an expert in the field and they can be very smart it's often very difficult for other people who don't have the same level of intelligence or education to believe what that person has to say - and smart people run into this all the time: other people resist ideas from someone because they don't want to admit that there's somebody smarter. And what happens when you introduce a smart AI? You know, what happens if you have wiser beings and we don't listen to them and then we have wiser systems and people don't want to listen to them? It can be extremely difficult to face the fact but intelligent people are often not listened to.

Charles Ostman: Not only did I agree with you but I think it's already a sort of a de facto known phenomena, but again, it's one of those hard sells. It's not something that the average person is going to readily adapt to or even one to adapt to. But I already agree with you a thousand percent.

Charles Shults: What happens when we make AIs that are smart enough to solve these problems and people don't want to listen to them what if we do make a law and force them like a tyranny?

Charles Ostman: And as I've written myself and many of my previous talks and lectures on when I write I often cite this idea: that the complexity scale and velocity of information that's now available that are the drivers of all these different mechanisms that are taking place far exceeds human capacity to render mission critical decisions compressed into ever-shorter time scales. So we by...

Charles Shults: Because the complexity of these problems is so great that no one mind or no group of human minds can actually understand them. The machine we work on - this planet - it's just far too complicated in terms of the systems arrangement.

Charles Ostman: Just by factual requirement we're going to have to rely on forms of intelligence which are non human in origin, which then leads to another somewhat iffy question. At what point are the boundaries of authority getting surrendered either voluntarily or otherwise to these non-human intelligences, which begin to manage planetary affairs? And by what process does that authority translate into everyday life for the vast majority of the world's populations? And that's a very very tricky question to come up with because, as you can probably imagine, you know are we are we heading into a like a Skynet sort of universe where decisions are made not based on what might suit the socio-economic or perhaps the perceived ethical or moral boundaries of the human population at a particular vantage point, but rather from a planetary perspective? What suits the ethics of the planet, that sort of thing. Now I can tell you, just from my own personal observation, a lot of people are not going to like this very much this is not this is not going to be a  you know easily acceptable concept!

Charles Shults: Well smart people get it all the time I mean there are a lot of intelligent people who have solutions to things or better ways of doing things and people simply will refuse to listen.

Charles Ostman: Right.

Charles Shults: And it's this built-in authority and control thing that a lot of human beings have. I mean let's face it, that was necessary for our survival in the wild, but when we put a lot of people together, we start to get to a point where it destroys us, that somebody with an authoritarian bent can override somebody who actually has a solution or understands things a little better and it really turns into an issue. And when we start putting together, let's say, a machine that can solve these problems then I don't know if people are going to go along with it.

Charles Ostman: Well it's not just "a" machine, it's more like a network of systems, and the network of systems themselves is something like a like a living thing of sorts, and in fact I just to deviate slightly from the topic, I remember quite distinctly when I was at Lockheed Martin in 2006 and I gave a presentation on biological metaphors computing - from a defense perspective actually - but it was a three day long event and there were all sorts of people there presenting their particular flavor of evolutionary computing or quantum computing or self-healing networks, that whole sort of thing, where neural networks had became the de facto mechanism for having self protecting systems and you know cetera - so the guy that came on stage just before me was the gentleman from Motorola who invented the term "digital DNA". And it was kind of a good metaphor for the concept because - and again this is a decade ago - but clearly it was very obvious that the inner circle of the real sort of mover and shaker, the think-tank types that were sorting this out were already at a point where they recognized that the psychological noise of human activity was becoming ever more of a - I don't want to say hindrance that's probably not the right word exactly - but looking for a way to have a system level management mechanism that was not distracted by the psychological noise of human perception nor lack thereof perhaps.

Charles Shults: Now at this point I need to say that the interview continued for quite a while after this and I needed to cut it short and actually break this into two shows because we're running really very long. But, the information for the interview was so relevant and so on topic and on key that I feel that we need to make a second part of this show and present the other half of the interview, and have an opportunity to spend some time with some people getting some questions and answers. So this is what we're going to do.

Wow, what a great interview and it was running very long so I'm going to have to continue it on another show, but we've got plenty of material and Charles Ostman has agreed to join us again for other interview in the near future. He has so much to share. We're going to get back to taking the questions and ideas from people that they posted online. We want to cover some of the public opinion and see what you think about the show and what's going on in the world. I also am going to recommend a book at the end of this and you know, I've not read this myself, I've just looked at the blurbs online, the madness of crowds is the book that Charles Ostman recommended, and you know I have to say it's something that I've thought for a while is: we always think of a mob as people in the street doing something, a bunch of people running around smashing windows or something but, I've long held the opinion that a mob can be any group of people who get together with a common idea in mind and enforce it on others force others to follow it. And I think that the worst and most dangerous mobs in the world are not the ones with machine guns or explosives or any of those things it's the guys in business suits sitting around a board table with a glass of sherry or cognac laughing at their their newest profitable venture and how they're going to stick it to you. And in my mind, that's the most dangerous mob there is and very little is ever said about that.

Now don't get me wrong - there are many companies that have done amazing things. Most companies from what I've seen - and I know a lot of business owners - most companies are not evil. They're not bent on doing evil, but at a certain point a company seems to reach a stage where the only thing they see is the bottom line. And there has to be a moral balance struck somewhere.

So let's see I'm looking at my messages here and I have one from Twilight 1993 and it says, and this is a very good question: "is it too late for Jacques Fresco's world?" Now, some of you may know Jacques Fresco is the fellow who just turned 100 this year is the creator of The Venus Project and it's a - it's not a resource-based economy as we see in science fiction or anything like that it really is a world where everything is provided pretty much and you're free to do as you wish. And yes, it requires some sort of effort to be done.

I think that in an ideal situation each of us would work at what we want to do as much or as little as we want to do because we have machine intelligence enough, a machine capacity enough, actually to automate this whole production delivery and clean up cycle, so that we don't have to be you know getting our hands dirty constantly. And I do agree in a principle that if a man doesn't work he doesn't eat, that stands very clearly in my mind and I know that I derive great, great enjoyment and satisfaction from doing a job and getting something made or completed, so you never want to remove that from somebody's life because you lose your sense of worth.

But is it too late for Jacques Fresco's world? I don't think that it is, and understand, I met Jacques Fresco; my wife and I had an opportunity to sit with him for a day when he was giving one of his discussions - and this is about six years ago - and I was overjoyed to have the opportunity to listen to somebody who had a vision of how things could be and how good the world could be. And understand, I'm not a hundred percent onboard with his picture of how economics or lack of would work. I think that it's a very close solution to what we should strive for though. This world could be a paradise. We really have everything we need, we just have to be smart about how we apply it.

Okay and I have I have one here from Houston Girl and it says: "a company is making edible plastic rings for cans. Shouldn't we make most plastic so it would break down?" This is a very good one. I saw these, they have the six-pack plastic ring holders that have been getting in the environment and we have always seen them wrapped around a sea turtle or a bird or a fish, and it's a horrible thing to think that this permanent piece of plastic is gonna be out there interfering with the wildlife and causing their deaths. And yes, there's a company that, very responsibly, has come up with a system of making them so that they are edible; they can be consumed by the sea life.

The unfortunate problem is if we make all our plastics out of stuff that breaks down it defeats the purpose of it being plastic in the first place. We need a material that is impermeable, that the liquids won't go through, it's airtight, and it isn't likely to break down on the shelf for a period of time. Because the things will be produced and packaged, we want them to last for a while, that's the whole point of packaging the way we do. Much of the short-term stuff obviously can be made with the degradable plastic, so that might be a solution in in many cases, but it couldn't be in all the cases. that that much is just practicality. But it's a very good start.

And now here's one that strikes home for me: Armin25 says, "I see a lot of space research and no work to find answers or fix these problems. We should stop making spaceships to escape and work on cleaning up the planet." Well, that sounds lovely, but here's the issue with that: the fact is we already know how to end most of these problems, and it just isn't being done. It's really an issue of politics and money and business, not a matter of technology or science. We know exactly how to clean the plastic out of the ocean and we know exactly how to stop polluting the air. We know how to do these things. We know how to stop fracking and all it would take is a stroke of a pen, to be honest. But too much money has changed hands and we're fixated, as Charles Ostman said, with the addiction to petroleum and this has to change. We have to find better ways to do this, and I know that there are a lot of smart people out there who know exactly how to do that.

We need to start a movement of some sort in which we refuse to participate in this. We have to find better ways to do it, and every one of us knows we can we can do things to stop consuming more oil. - solar panels or windmills or whatever it takes. And I know that renewable resources are something we absolutely have to focus on - renewable energy alternative energy. It shouldn't be the alternative it should be the de facto, but petroleum isn't the only thing that we use for our energy source, and a lot of people are aware that most of our electricity actually comes from burning coal ,and not petroleum.

But petroleum's greatest value is not as a fuel it is as a feedstock to manufacture plastic and lubricants and industrial chemicals. If we eliminated the burning of petroleum we could cut the petroleum market down to about a third of what it is right away, and we can focus on industrial products, things that we need, and you know step by step we can wean ourselves off of this. But we don't have a lot of years left, we have to start taking some action right away.

Now, as far as his statement, Armin25's statement, stop making spaceships and focus on cleaning up the planet, I do have an objection to that and it's this: if we stop our research in things like space science we don't know what we're going to miss. Most of what we have today in industry was fallout from the Apollo moon project. All the electronics, the micro electronics, the advanced composites and plastics, all of this material, all of this technology came from trying to get off the planet to the moon and back again safely. When we're building spacecraft were not just running away.

We're actually seeking solutions to problems that will come back to earth synergistically; they're going to help us in other ways that we did not anticipate, and that's an extremely important part of research and development.

Now, just to give you an idea of how small things can make a huge difference: ballpoint pens. Let's say that out of the entire country one out of ten people uses ballpoint pens and every year they go through let's say three of them, we'll say they last four months a pop. Now a ballpoint pen weighs about five point eight grams; that's all the plastic and everything in it.

So if out of the three hundred twenty three million people in the United States thirty two point three million of them go through three pens a year at five point eight grams of plastic, at the end of the year that's 562 metric tons of pens that end up in the landfill. And that sounds like an awful lot of plastic, and it is. The problem is it's very difficult to recycle because it's spread throughout all the other trash.

Now this illustrates an interesting point: if you didn't use ballpoint pens, if nobody did, that be 562 tons of waste that wasn't generated. But 562 tons of waste isn't a whole lot, and yet, when you start thinking about things like throw away plastic razors and paper towels and all the other things we use, you come to the conclusion very rapidly that we're generating an immense amount of waste that would be very difficult to sort out and recycle, even if we had the capacity in place to do it. So to me this is a challenge.

Recycling plastic is one of those things where you have to sort the material out, you have to classify it by the type of plastic it is, and so I once thought wouldn't it be interesting to make a device that can look at the plastic and identify it. And we have devices right now they can scan materials and tell you what they're made of, so some hobbyist or hacker here's a challenge: come up with a simple handheld device that can look at a type of plastic, identify it positively, and can be used to classify it and all we have to do is incorporate that in the box you dump your trash in, and robotically it sorts out all the bits of plastic, classifies them and bins them.

Now a machine that did something like this could be used to automatically carry our waste stream, sort out all the materials we can recycle, and we train it to recognize the plastic to sort the different classes of glass, to sort out the metals, and to determine what can be composted, what can be recycled, and what has to be incinerated.

And don't be fooled; incineration is not necessarily a bad thing. Plastic is almost a hundred percent petroleum, which means it's a source of fuel, of energy. There are devices called pyrolytic or gasification furnaces that can burn plastic quite successfully, and if you want to see a model of that that works very very well, look at Sweden. Sweden had a huge trash problem and they have now become the world's leader in destroying or recycling garbage, to the point where they actually generated a significant fraction of their power from it and they're begging other countries to bring the garbage to Sweden, because they will use it.

So, hope isn't lost. We have a means of destroying or recycling just about everything we generate and if we add just a little finesse to it, devices that can do the sorting for us we'd be way ahead of the game. We do have the capability to do this and it doesn't take much - a dedicated tinkerer in a garage somewhere to come up with a sensor that could sort out two three four types of plastic - and that's a beginnin,g that's a good start. Because we could make systems that could automatically identify and sort this material and it becomes a resource once that's done.

Now I'm going to go back to that book that I mentioned a little earlier that Charles Ostman also mentioned in his in his talk, and that the full title of the book is “extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds” and the book sounds rather interesting right away, because we know that people in groups tend to do strange things. What's interesting to me in the most part is not the title of the book or what it's about but the fact that it was written by a fellow named Charles Mackay, a Scottish fellow, in the year 1841. And it is just as relevant today because of the message it carries as it was back then. So it might be worth your while to check that book out. I see that it's available online through Amazon and other outlets. So read it and see how it effects your thinking.

Now my closing thoughts are: each and every one of us is tied into the world, and our actions affect the people around us and what happens in the world. If we see something in the world we don't like many times we don't know what to do about it. We object, we might grouse about it to our friends, but how do we stop it from happening? That can be a difficult one to answer but the answer really comes from each and every one of us figuring out what little we can do and doing it. My wife Elizabeth has a favorite saying and it's one I love and it really relates to how many people we hear demonstrating, complaining, you know yelling about something not being done. Her answer to that is pick up a shovel.

You get in there and you do it. You can't wait for somebody else. You can't depend on someone else to have exactly the same view or the same influence or the same desire to do something that you have. Pick up a shovel let's get it done. And finally, I've often been told that politics doesn't solve problems very often, and I know that that's true. My favorite way of looking at it is a statement that politics is based on the flawed assumption that reasoning with evil will produce a benefit. So, just something to think about.

On our next show we will look at 3d printing and how it's going to affect the world around us. Some of you already have 3d printers and some astounding things are being done with them already, and there's a lot of controversy about it too. Just imagine the type of machine they have on Star Trek, the replicator, that produces any food or material or device they want. We're well on our way to creating devices of that sort and when nanotechnology is added to the mix, it's going to happen very very rapidly. So what would you do if you had a machine in your home a little bigger than a breadbox, smaller than a refrigerator, that could produce anything that you could want. What would it be?

So think about that and I have a saying that I really love and I think it's inspirational: scarcity is a myth. We have everything we need to make everything we'll ever need. I'm your host Charles Shults. Join us next week on Talk Universe.