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Humanizing Tech

The Gravity of a New Perspective

Combining Quantum Computers, Biological AI, Gravity Drives, and Skutterudites to reach interstellar space.

I. Overview

Many people talk as if interstellar travel is a given. That if we keep building, innovating and moving forward, it will just magically happen. That’s not the case at all. There are some fundamental physical limits that we humans face to traveling beyond our own solar system.

It took a tiny satellite almost 40 years of travel, using planetary gravity to slingshot itself even faster towards the precipice of interstellar space.

Voyager 1 was launched in 1977, before I was even born. It is now the farthest man-made object away from our pale blue dot. If you made that journey, you would spend half your entire life just traveling in a small metal container through the underwhelming blackness of space. It isn’t practical, especially when you consider the other problems that must be solved, like an abundant energy source.

But, there’s hope with a few technologies that are just coming to market or slightly out of reach in the realm of theoretical R&D. But we feel compelled to explore. It’s a bit of what makes us human. And so we do.

II. Gravity Drives

The first problem we must solve is propulsion. Getting us from point A to point B faster than it took Voyager 1. I mean, who has that kind of time? Of course, we don’t want to retard our thinking right out of the gate. So we shouldn’t refer to the problem as propulsion. But rather as crossing vast distances in short time periods.

What we really need is an alternative, esoteric method. Something like bending spacetime, setting up worm holes, or creating a warp speed generator. For the latter, I like to refer to the concept as a Gravity Drive. Something that places a small amount of gravity always just in front of you, so it “sucks” you forward faster and faster. Almost like generating a tiny black hole a foot in front of your spacecraft.

There is a more formal definition for something like this. It’s called an Alcubierre Drive. In it’s most basic terms, it shifts spacetime around the craft thereby allowing it to “travel” faster than the speed of light because it’s not actually traveling, but is a bit more like a skipping stone on top of the water instead of traveling through it.

It’s theoretically possible, but the problem is the amount of energy and mass required to make it happen. It requires more than exists in the known universe. Hmm, so that’s a problem. But like humanity has always done, we will look at the problem from a different angle to figure it out.

The gravity of a new perspective, if you will.

That’s the first step, even if the entire stairway seems unclimbable at the moment.

III. Quantum Computers

We’re reaching the limits of Moore’s Law. At only a few nanometers, we’re can’t fit any more stuff into a space that small on a physical chip. We’re down at the atomic level. We’re technological horders and have run out of space in our teeny tiny little home.

So, again, we need to look at the problem from a new perspetive.

Instead of an electrical gate that can only be on or off, a 1 or a 0, we need to turn to photons and allow for a continuum of values between 0 and 1. We need to work with the infinite points on a line between 0, 0.1, 0.2, 0.21, 0.22, 0.221, 0.222, …, 1.000000000.

The only way to get there is by using the properties of quantum mechanics. We need to build a quantum computer.

There are two people who are leading the bleeding edge of this. The first has been working on building a Quantum Computer for over a decade, including a stint at IBM. His name is Chad Rigetti and he recently gave a Hard Tech talk at Y Combinator’s Startup School.

It takes time to build the real thing. So in the meantime, we need to turn to another incredibly smart chap who has built a quantum computer simulator in the browser during nights and weekends away from his day job at Google.

His name is Craig Gidney and writes about his journey over the last few years to first, understanding quantum mechanics and second, actually building a web-based tool to play with it. He made it easy enough that yes, even you, can play with a quantum computer right in your browser. He calls it Quirk.

The benefits to quantum computing is that it takes far less time to do calculations than it would before. Instead of one supercomputer in your pocket, you could now have a billion. They help cure disease, build better machine learning algorithms that train on massive amounts of training data (i.e., the corpus of all human knowledge) in the race towards Artificial General Intelligence.

The future may be unevenly distributed. But so is the talent. Go out and find the diamond in the rough people who enable technological progress and give them anything they need to keep going.

IV. Skutterudites

If we’re going to travel to and through interstellar space we need an abundant energy source as the sun, but still just as powerful when we’re billions of miles away from a star in the cold recesses of space. NASA’s JPL already have this technology in production with the Mars Curiosity Rover and they, just yesterday, made another announcement.

They use the decay of radioactive elements to produce heat, and then convert that heat into electricity to power the rover. With a new material that heats up like metal, but insulates like glass called Skutterudites, it allows for much more efficient energy use.

Have a look at the wonderful video they produced yesterday. There’s also a neat hint for self-driving cars at the end.

V. Biological AI

Finally, there has been much excitement in the world of artificial intelligence and machine learning during 2016. A number of new GPUs, self-driving cars, computers beating humans at complex games, messaging assistants and the link.

They’re all using a single approach, but after having researched the biological way recently (i.e., not Numenta), I’m convinced that the mathematical way will run squarely into a brick wall. It’s missing a few fundamental insights required to mimic our general intelligence accurately.

Below are a few points to help show what I mean.

In order to get to five 9s of accuracy, we need a new perspective and a new approach. I believe Biological is that approach.

You don’t have to believe me, all you have to do is read for yourself, wait and watch. Because on another planet in deep space you don’t have an internet connection, you don’t have training data, and you don’t have maps or GPS. You need an entirely different approach if you want to tackle those much harder problems.

So why try to build from scratch what nature spent 100 million years in R&D building for us: biological intelligence.

And if it we never solve the transportation speed problem, and it takes 100s or 1000s of years to reach another planet or civilization we need some type of intelligence to make that journey for us. Biological AI is our best bet.

VI. Conclusion

If you haven’t picked up what I’m putting down here, there is one major take away to this article. Namely, that humanity has always pushed itself forward by looking at the same problem from a new angle.

The wheel instead of dragging things. Alternating current electricity instead of steam power. A flying vehicle, built in the vision of a bird, instead of a car for faster travel.

A gravity drive instead of combustion engine. A quantum computer instead of a regular one. And biological AI instead of mathematical AI for reaching true intelligence.

We all come from the explosion of matter from a previously deceased star. We’re all the same. We’re all made from star stuff and we’re all connected. However, sometimes you just have to step back to see the gravity of that through a new perspective.

You are a little star particle.


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The Gravity of a New Perspective was originally published in Humanizing Tech on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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