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.

Sunday 28 May 2017

Transcript, Episode 1: Are we living in a virtual world?

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

Welcome to our very first edition of Talk Universe this is our show for Wednesday, July 13, 2016. I'm your host Sir Charles Shults. We're going to be talking about science and technology and how it affects you in the society and how you live. Tonight's show: are we in a virtual world? A lot of scientists think that we are, so let's look at that. If we are in a virtual world, is there some sort of test that we can perform that'll show us one way or the other? We will be taking questions and ideas in the second half of the show.

Each show on Talk Universe will have a specific topic that we address, and we'll also have a feature called singularity watch - this is where we look at the advances in science that seem to be bringing us to some unpredictable and amazing point in our future. Briefly, the singularity is a point in history where we can no longer predict what happens next.  Many people believe that it will be tied deeply to advances in artificial intelligence and the extremely rapid development of human knowledge. Others feel that our advances in life extension and what is known as "transhumanism" will be the cause.

The reality is we're learning so rapidly now that human knowledge is doubling in a period of roughly a year. In the years leading up to 1900, it's estimated that knowledge doubled every century or so, but the time to learn new facts and add them to our skills has dropped rapidly and now it takes about a year so. What happens when it takes a month or a day or an hour to double the amount of human knowledge? The fact is nobody can possibly predict what will happen then. We will try to present science stories and indicate just how rapidly the change is coming, and we'll also discuss some of the potential implications - just what it might mean for the planet.

I would also like to possibly focus on specific people who, in my estimation, have made notable contributions to such fields as life extension, medicine, physics, or space science. We'll look at the good and the bad, and we'll try to see the threats as well as the hopeful side of it all. If you want to participate in Talk Universe go to our website at talkuniverse.org and register. We also have a forum button so you can have discussions, share your questions and ideas, and we'll be listening to those and presenting them on the show.

We'll be building a library of shows and also creating a set of video tutorials showing you how to build robots, create a great workshop, program devices, and learn basic skills and science and technology. If you have children who have science projects or if you just want to improve your personal skills without taking on $50,000 in educational loans, this is the site for you. Our goal is to inform you and share with you some of the key skills and ideas of science and technology. It's also meant to be fun and to make you think - question the world around you.

So at the 17th annual Isaac Asimov debate which was hosted this year at the American Museum of Natural History, this was a formless question - are we in a virtual world? Neil deGrasse Tyson, as the director of the museum's Hayden Planetarium, hosted the event with five scientists, from astrophysicists to cosmologists and a philosopher. Now, each brought a specific view to the table and some very interesting ideas about what we might look for.

It was suggested that if we study cosmic rays, for example, they might show signs of a graininess of the universe, sort of like how magnifying a video image produces pixels. One of the ideas is that an energetic massive particle - which is what cosmic rays are - may be influenced by the uncountable tiny grainy structures of space-time as it passes through billions of light years of space. Now, other evidence might be in the spectra of energies from these particles. So, imagine looking through a poor lens and seeing the color fringes of an image to that lens where tiny distortions occur where the properties of the glass cause the light waves to separate by frequency.

If any of us has ever looked through a cheap telescope, we've noticed that the image sometimes has a red edge on one side and blue edge on the other.  This is called chromatic aberration, and telescopes are designed to eliminate the effect by using special types of glass and shapes of lenses arranged to cancel the effect out but physical processes have no definite sign of this, and some feel it wouldn't make a difference. But, after all, if the universe is a simulation then it's possible that any answer we get might also be simulated to appear correct.

It's this mathematical structure of atomic particles and how they work that gets some scientists thinking about the potential for the universe to be very much like a video game. I mean, if you think of the atoms as being tiny solid pixels, or the particles that the atoms are made of being tiny solid pixels, you can see how this would be a very inviting idea. But, if this is true, then there may be signs of shortcuts taken in the simulation to make things appear more realistic than they actually are. We'd have to be pretty clever to find out if this is really a fact.

To give an example, when we calculate the movement of a planet or satellite in orbit let's say we use a method where the mass of the Planet of the object is considered to be a single point, not an extended body with real measurements and dimensions - we treat it like what's called a point mass solution. A true reality would most likely work by adding up all the forces on all the particles of all the atoms of an object but that sort of calculation, in a computer sense, would be completely impossible for us or any computer.

When we work out the path of a spacecraft we treat it as a point, as well as the Sun, the Moon, the planets, and anything that might influence its movement. Even video games use this approach because it works so well. With no more than some tiny minor Corrections we can send a spacecraft anywhere the solar system with extremely good accuracy. It was said that the Juno spacecraft arrived to Jupiter within one second of its predicted arrival time, just to give you an example of how close or how accurate we can be, so we can see that some shortcuts would work if we created a virtual world that has real astronomy going on in it.

But that leads us to ask: are there other shortcuts that might allow us to create a very realistic virtual world, and if so might we look for those shortcuts in our own world? What really makes many scientists unsure is the fact that many parts of nature appear to have self correcting codes built in them. The equations that spell out super string theory, one of the theories that might explain the physics of our universe, appeared to contain error correcting codes in them, and this is also true for DNA which is the source code for living organisms.

But it's also pointed out that a universe that allowed for errors to grow and propagate without correction would probably be unstable, and so we might expect to find error correction built into a universe - anyone that's reasonable anyway - so what would it mean if we did find out that the universe is a simulation? Well first of all, it might be useful to understand why people even ask the question to begin with, because there are a lot of possible theories that explain the type of universe we live in and how it's structured and why it works the way it does.

Why would we even ask the question are we in a simulation? Unlikely as it seems, science fiction seems to be the source of this and stories written back in the 1950s and 60s covered the idea pretty nicely, and the idea in many of them was: somebody discovers they live in this bubble of reality or a simulation of reality, in one form or another, and a lot of it has ended up in movies. One of my favorites was the story "simulacra three" that was written in 1964 by Daniel F Calloway and it became the basis of the movie 13th floor and in that movie one of the characters actually ends up escaping the simulation and emerging into what he feels is the real world.

So why the fascination with this it really started when we began simulating things using computers. Initially computers weren't very powerful, and many of them actually used analog hardware such as gears and wheels and gear ratios to get things to happen, and in them normally they would simulate something such as the flight of an aircraft or the movement of a shell an artillery shell - a trajectory - and these devices were used a lot in ships for naval battles and defense.

But as computers became more electronic and digital and achieved higher resolution, simulations became better and better and we began simulating things such as the weather or the movement of populations of animals or how things change in our world and a lot of it had to do with science and physics, but there were always the playful few of the programmers who get into system and simulate something nobody had thought about, or play around a little so to speak, and so today we know that one of the first major uses in the public world for computing was not just credit cards and designing new aircraft but was actually for video games. And Nolan Bushnell, the fellow who invented the game pong, converted it from a game that ran on his oscilloscope to something we could run on a television screen and it became a real success and Atari grew from that.

Now, as our games have become more sophisticated, it reached a point where people question what would it be like to be a video game character and how much resolution does it take the make a video game as real as our reality and so this idea has been around for a while, and you can understand that it's sort of an infectious idea. I often joked with people in the past that we knew that reality was a simulation because how else in the world would your keys end up in the freezer or socks missing in the dryer? And the joke was: every time the system crashed and they had to reset it, some of the variables that pointed out where objects were supposed to be got scrambled up and that's how these weird things would happen!

So it's just a joke but it's a joke that makes people think that germ remains in your mind that thought a little idea and many people at this point realize that no matter how complicated our world is if somebody can build a larger better more powerful computer than we have they could simulate a fair portion of it. So how do we know that reality is real? Our understanding of this can be tempered by the fact that the world's most powerful computing right now is devoted to simulating the effects of nuclear transformations.

We have tiny simulations of a tiny portion of our universe that reflects the operations of either string theory or chromodynamic theories - the study of the tiniest fractions of existence in our universe. And by looking at them we can make predictions about how quantum mechanics and how certain particle theories can work. And so this is an interesting thought: that our most powerful computing is already being used to simulate tiny bits of reality and it only goes to extend from there that if we can make even more powerful cheaper computers that people would simulate other portions of reality. Now we have to look at the consequences of living in a simulation. If this really is a simulation then there should be some signs that we could detect.

One of them is, as mentioned earlier, the possibility that certain reactions would leave a signature such as cosmic rays showing a shift in their spectrum. Why would this be? It's because in order to make a particle move from one point to another in reality the universe has tiny steps of space-time, tiny tiny steps of energy called quanta, and these little bits are shown to actually be discrete - in other words separate - but the catch is this: those tiny bits don't have hard-defined limits to them like little boxes. Instead, they smear out like wave forms and overlap and you may have heard of something called the uncertainty principle.

The uncertainty principle explains to a degree why this is so, and so we might say well it isn't actually digital it's just tiny portions that are uncertain and blur into each other and that seems like a very reasonable explanation. But now, we're looking at quantum computing, something completely different from the previous digital computing that everybody is familiar with and quantum computing would be using waveforms that overlap, and when we interpret the structure of a quantum wave it is affected by all the other quantum waves around it.

So if you look at it from this standpoint, we could imagine that our universe appears to be a digital simulation based on quantum wave effects. In other words, once we reach the point where we have powerful high range quantum computers we would be able to make simulations thousands of times more detailed and realistic than the simulations that we can create now. At some point, how realistic does a simulation become and is it something that is capable for passing off as reality?

This is the real issue. Let's assume for a moment that we actually did have a system that simulated reality. What would the consequences be and - this is the most important part - imagine you have a computer and in the computer you're going to write a program that simulates another computer. Now this is done pretty often by people who design computer chips; they have to know how well the thing is going to operate and if they're going to be any issues with it, so they actually write what's called an emulator. An emulator program acts just exactly like the computer you're trying to build before the first piece of silicon is actually ever made, so by running an emulator you can see how it's going to perform. But the issue is it can only perform as quickly or less quickly than the computer that is simulating it. So, if your computer has say a billion instructions per second and you're simulating computer that runs as fast as it can if it takes 10 to 20 instructions for your computer to simulate the other computer then it's going to run at least 10 to 20 times slower than your computer, and the only way to make the new computer run as fast as it should is to not be emulated.

Now if you were that computer chip that's running in the emulator you would have no way of knowing that, you would only know that you're running as you should and that's the crux of the argument. It also leads us to an interesting thought i- f reality is a simulation there may be a limit to how many instructions can be performed in a given instant of time, and if we start building other simulations of extremely high resolution and fidelity and we start running many simulations, we might reach a point where our world bogs down! The computer that is running our reality - now this is an interesting thought that perhaps running hundreds thousands or millions of virtual worlds in our world would make our world - if it is a virtual - crawl to a halt. That we literally could overload the processor or cause it to crash.

Some people have proposed that the singularity - the coming point in time where we have so much computing and so much information that we can't predict what happens next - may actually be the thing that triggers the shutdown of our simulated world, if indeed it is a simulation. This is all very well and it's all theoretical, but is there any portion of anything we've done in reality that indicates to us that it might be true? Oddly enough there is work done by physicist Stephen Hawking shows that when something falls in a black hole the information that it contains does not end up in the volume of the black hole but because the way it works it ends up spread over the surface of the black hole.

Now this would mean if you put an awful lot of stuff into a black hole and everything full of information ended up falling into that black hole the information on the surface would increase hugely but not in the volume, and this leads to a principle called the holographic universe - that the surface of a black hole is only two-dimensional and the information ends up on that two-dimensional surface not inside the three or four dimensional volume contained within the hole. This also leads to another consequence: if you have enough information compacted densely enough in a small enough space it too can lead to the formation of another black hole. It's very strange to think that not only matter or energy can make a black hole, but information can also.

So this brings us to the point we have to consider how big a black hole can be versus how much information there is there is a direct relationship. This is a true result of the modelling and theoretical physics behind black holes gravity and space-time so there are actually some consequences that suggest to us that the world could be a simulation and that is one of them. So let's see if we can summarize the idea of our world being virtual and some implications. The concept was raised clearly in science fiction in the late 1950s and early 1960s and the growth of computing power and simulating weather, stock market prices, and other real world phenomena was helpful in developing virtual worlds of our own known as video games.

Now philosophers and scientists have since come to realize that we don't know of anything that would preclude our world from being a simulation - there's no science a theory that could dismiss the possibility. Furthermore work by Stephen Hawking shows that black holes would exhibit a strange effect where the size of the black hole would be related to the amount of information that it contains, and this creates the idea that our universe is a hologram. This is because information density is related to the two-dimensional surface area of the black hole not its volume.

Other scientists have found what appears to be error correction codes in the equations of string theory, which might be a foundation of the structure of our universe and for our universe to be stable or for any universe to be stable. It might just be a natural part of reality, but we can't be certain. On top of that, if we begin making very detailed quantum mechanical virtual worlds the processing power to do it and the density of information involved might possibly bog down any computer that is running our simulated world, like giving your computer too many tasks to do at once.

And finally, if our world is a simulation there could be some interesting consequences - for example death becomes potentially meaningless because if you are simulated then your mind becomes a result of some piece of computer code and the operator of our simulation could simply restart you just as you might restart a game on your Nintendo. Does Mario remember the past games? Could that be one source of deja vu? Another result of learning that our world is a simulation might be that people would stop doing good works, because then the world and its consequences might appear meaningless.

A confirmation that the world is virtual could actually trigger a wave of suicides, adrenaline related deaths, or pointless actions if people lose the feeling that their existence has meaning. We can't be certain of how it would affect them positively, but if the world's a little more than an extremely sophisticated simulation, it might makesense to do things that make your life interesting to the programmer, so that you're not simply erased. You might want to start doing things that make you worth keeping around - your existence might depend on becoming a very interesting person, someone worth watching for sheer entertainment value. But we can't be certain if that's the point of it all - you see, all this is just a theory right now. The theories can be right, or wrong, or partially right. So far we don't know what the answer is. So let's take some questions and listen to some of your ideas for the second part of the show. Send us your thoughts through our forum, we will address the most interesting ones.

Okay well first of all we've had an interesting first half of the show, let's see if we can get some questions from some people.  I have one, this is an anonymous post, and it says I've played Grand Theft Auto 3 and crashed the game. could we crash the universe? That's a pretty interesting question. I don't think that's very likely, and the reason I'd say that is because all the things we see in physics don't seem to indicate anything that would wreck the way the code is running.

If the universe is a simulation, then whoever programmed it paid a great deal of attention to how everything operates, and whether there's going to be any source of problems. So, if you consider we've done things like detonate nuclear bombs and the Sun is constantly clear process there are some extremely high temperatures and pressures there, you know I don't see anything that we could possibly do that crashes the universe - maybe, maybe if we were doing research and extremely high energy particles somewhere, something we can't even do yet here on the earth, it might be possible, but I don't know if that's a possibility that's realistic in any sort of way.

In any event it is a pretty interesting question that I just don't think it's anyway we're going to crash universe. Now let's see if we look at the way the universe works, everything is done with particles, almost little building blocks that interact with each other, whereas in a computer program, the type that we write, we usually use instructions or code, and here's the interesting part about that: in a universe such as a video game, we declared the rules by fiat. We simply say "this is what the rules are" and in fact if we were to build a universe that way, our simulation of the universe, it would be what I would call a universe by fiat or UBF. in a UBF any sort of rule can be made up at random and they don't even have to be consistent.

So I know that a lot of us have played video games and had things crash or go through a wall or do something inconsistent with reality. In the real universe there are rules that seem to be built into the structure of it, unlike a video game, and so in that sort of universe the computation that does the job of creating that universe is really the interaction of all those particles and forces. So if you were to simulate particles and forces of very simple rules, and then you were to create a universe out of those simulated particles and forces, there's a much better chance that it's going to be far more stable and self self-stabilizing or self-correcting than a universe by fiat. So that's one of the things to consider when we look at making synthetic worlds of our own or artificial worlds.

Okay we have a question: Gary wants to know if there could be cheat codes for the universe. Well, that's a fantastic question. I think we've got some gamers here tonight. Okay, a lot of people who play video games know that there are sometimes codes that you can enter that allow you to do things that normally would not work and those are cheat codes. And cheat codes could exist for reality if it were a program but again if this is not a universe by fiat then it's unlikely. I think that in a sense physicists - nuclear physicists - are looking for cheat codes or people who research physics are doing the look for cheat codes thing right now because they're trying to find ways that we can bend the rules of reality to let's saycreate antigravity or whatever and in our minds we don't yet know the answers to those things so the research we do could in a sense be looking for cheat codes.

But if actual cheat codes for reality existed it might allow you to do things like move through solid objects or go behind the scenes or make everything static while your time continue to run but that you know that's at this point that's really a fantasy but it is a fascinating idea so it's not something we can simply you know dispel without a little bit of research.

Ok so, so far we have some actually some pretty good questions here. I've got one from n00b 29  Albany and he wants to know if universe is a simulation how do we go about moving to a different universe and I think that's actually another interesting question.

Okay let's assume that you had two or three different simulations running on your computer and you wanted to move information from one to the other. Normally you'd have to write some sort of a program that acts as a port or a gateway to get that information from one to another and it would be extremely unlikely that a character in one of the games or programs would have access to system functions that allow them to move into a different simulation but there's also something else to consider: we know that our universe has a certain set of rules or laws that apply to it and it's geometry is the mathematics behind it is what defines how our universe acts and what it is.

Well, that being the fact, we also could understand that it's quite possible that a different universe would have completely different geometry or structure or rules and so it could be a dangerous thing to try to move from one simulation or one universe to another because, under those conditions maybe the variables are different, maybe the code iis different, and you probably couldn't function or you might even cease to exist so that would be a pretty dirty sort of experiment to try and very dangerous one. So now that's not something you're going to see me trying anytime soon! But the cheat code question that's a very good one, I like that.

All right, let's see who else we've got online, and what we've got - okay we have another anonymous post here and it says, if you could build any sort of universe you could what would it be like? You know, I think a lot of times when we start a simple project like adding a room on a house or making a custom car or doing something like that, we often think about all the things we would like to do and we discover it takes a lot more planning to make that happen to get all the resources in place and so forth.

I think that if I had to design a universe, it would probably be pretty much exactly like the laws of physics that we have here, because you will always discover that if you change something and you don't understand how the whole system works, you're going to have some pretty horrible consequences, possibly at some point in the future, so as far as it goes this is a pretty good universe. So as far as the ability to make an entirely new one, I don't think I would change anything. I think I would like to know a lot more about this one before I go altering things. It's like going into somebody else's recipe and changing things around and not knowing what you did or going into another piece of somebody else's code and changing some variables at random, thinking you're going to make things better - that's pretty unlikely on a complex system like an entire universe.

I don't have any questions posted right now at the moment so I'm just going to talk a little bit about the the whole idea. A synthetic universe is a pretty fascinating thing and I think we're coming up with a lot of really good candidates for that sort of thing lately. I've done a lot of video game playing and a lot of video game writing myself, and I know that when you start thinking about the simplest actions you have to consider things like how gravity works and how impacts work, how things collide with things and rebound, how pieces fracture how damage occurs, and there are so many details that come up when you begin to design even a video game that you have to start declaring certain limits to everything in the beginning.

I have a great phrase that I came up with a couple of years back when I was working on a project and I realized when you have absolute utter freedom to do anything you want, a lot of times you're stumped; you have no idea what to do next, and so I realized that actually having limits could greatly clarify your thinking and help you guide where you're going to go, and I call it the freedom of constraint. So that, within a certain set of parameters. if you've cut out millions of possibilities you've got only like three to five possibilities, it's much much easier to make a decision about what you're going to do and how you're going to do it. That's what I call the freedom of constraints - something that it seems sort of paradoxical at first that if you have utter freedom to do anything you wanted that anything is possible - yes that's true but when it really comes down to it, in those sorts of circumstances it's next to impossible to figure out what you want to do. It's hard, so if you give yourself a certain scope to work within it becomes much easier to do, and I think the designing Universe, no question, would be one of those sorts of projects.

Okay and I've got to got a good one here: Frank in Arizona says, "what are the social issues if this is the only universe there is? If we find that this isn't a simulation but it's the only universe there is what sort of a answer is that I suppose to what people have been thinking that it's possible that there are many many universes?" You know, even physics postulates that there's got to be a lot of universes and the reasons for that are numerous and one of them stems deeply from quantum mechanics. The fact that a solution to a problem often involves waveforms a very great complexity and getting those waveforms together into one place to to solve the question of how real or how solid something is you know that's a real that's a real problem with trying to develop quantum computing trying to isolate all the waveforms and keep your two bits your quantum bits separate from each other so they don't collapse. If this is the only universe - and I don't think that it is but if it were - then I think that life would pretty much go on as it does. I don't see any huge differences in what people would think of what they would do so I think that's probably the easiest answer out of the questions I've been asked.

So ok what I'm going to do right now is give a brief update on the singularity watch and that is basically that we have seen some new advances recently in fields where there had - they finally come up with a cure for Alzheimer's which is being tested right now and they returned full memory function in the patients that have had it and they also have in the wings stem cell cures for MS multiple sclerosis - which I find was fascinating - and what we're really looking at here is the growth of information and medical technology has become so rapid that we have new treatments emerging almost monthly at this point for diseases that were previously thought insoluble or incurable.

That's going to bring us to a point where it's possible to reverse many things including aging. They've already done some previous you know thought impossible tests to reverse the aging of cells. Apparently what they found is a certain set of proteins and conditions that will cause a cell to become younger so there are some tests being done right now which may actually have potential to halt or reverse aging.

And that does bring us even closer to the point where people could live a hundred or a thousand years or permanently, but I think the actual solution will come as a hybrid of machine technology such as nanotechnology, robotics technology, and human life. That's the only way to really make a body that doesn't go into decay or age that I think and that's just my opinion that is based on some science for engineering and physics.

So I hope you've enjoyed this show, this is our very first podcast. I know it's a little rough but it's got some good points, and we're going to have some really fascinating material.

Our next show is going to be "are we destroying our world?" and that's going to be a good one we're going to talk about a lot of things like fracking and plastics and air pollution and biological disasters and we're going to look at some of the evidence for those things and how we can get around them.

So thank you for listening today, it's been a great show and I'm looking forward to a lot more questions. We're going to have a lot of fun and if this continues to grow, we can go to an hour format instead of a half hour or so.

Thank you very much, we hope you've enjoyed Talk Universe. This is Sir Charles Shults and we'll do another one real soon come back and listen.  Thank you.

Friday 26 May 2017

Snubbed Technologies

Our next show is about technologies that have been developed and then forgotten, ignored, or lost.  Some of these ideas could be very helpful today.  Let's look at technologies that could provide food. power, and solutions to some of our present-day problems.  Any ideas?

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Welcome to Talk Universe

Welcome! This is the new blog for the Talk Universe podcast. Our podcast covers a wide range of high-tech and scientific topics from cosmology to nanotechnology, from artificial intelligence to extraterrestrial life, and everything in between.

In addition, we have a feature called Singularity Watch where we cover the latest developments in mankind's headlong rush into the future.

You can listen to all of our shows by visiting our archives, or you can subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher or Spreaker; we're planning on expanding to more podcast platforms soon. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or our YouTube channel.

Questions? Comments? You can contact us via our Twitter or Facebook accounts, via email, by leaving a message on our Contact page, or simply by leaving a comment here on the blog. We look forward to hearing from you!