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The New Scientist discusses a recent study that advocates using of an ion beam generator on the moon to allow the use of far smaller rockets to move from the moon to other locations in space. The ion beam generator would need several hundred megawatts of electrical power from either a large solar cell array or nuclear power.

I have discussed the need on my website to make gigawatts of power on the moon and in orbit in order to begin serious development and colonization efforts.

An alternative to ion beams would be magbeam, a plasma based approach for accelerating spaceships

The Lifeboat Foundation supports space habitats and Asteroid shields

The beam approaches all require large power sources. The fastest way to achieve this would be to build a lightweight nuclear power source on the earth and launch it into a high orbit (a lagrange point) or the moon.

The power could also be used to power mining and industrial machinery on the moon which has uranium and thorium and the raw materials to make more nuclear reactors. Containment and waste issues on the moon would be less of an issue until colonization happened in a big way. The colonization is better place in rotating structures in orbit, so the moon could be a power and material source for primarily orbital colonization.

Large scale structures for solar power and for space stations could be made with mostly existing or near term technology using magnetically inflated cables Using superconducting wire a lightweight structure could be launched that would unpack from an existing rocket and then expand to be 1 kilometers in diameter or more.

The main points are large scale space architecture is possible in the near term. Large power sources are needed and can be built. We can create viable space habitats with large viable populations properly engineering the technology that we have now. This would be superior to the lunar program that NASA has proposed which lacks the scale necessary to establish viable Lifeboat colonies.

There were several significant developments and announcements that were nanotechnology related.

The UK Ideas Factory Sandpit announced three ambitious, but in my opinion achievable projects in the 2–5 year timeframe.

1. A system with software based control for the assembly of DNA oligomers, nanopartices and other small molecules. This would be a significant advance over current DNA synthesis if they are successful.

2. Computer-directed actuators with sub-angstrom precisions that is based upon novel surface-bound, reconfigurable nanoscale building blocks and a prototype computer-controlled matter manipulator (akin to a nanoscale conveyor belt)

3. A matter compiler project which is to make the engineering control system to direct molecular assembly These announced projects could prompt the funding of more projects with aggressive molecular nanotechnology related objectives. If that was the case then this could be the beginning of a technological race.

Dwave systems has announced the date for the demonstration of their 16 qubit quantum computer

Dwave systems has a current roadmap with well over 1,000 by the end of 2008.

There are some quantum algorithms that can’t be run using the current architecture. The technical reason for this is that the devices that couple qubits i and j are of the \sigma_z^{i} \sigma_z^{j} type. There are some 16-qubit states that can’t be generated with the X + Z + ZZ Hamiltonian. Their roadmap includes the addition of an XZ coupler to their architecture, which will make their systems universal. The reason for doing this is that they plan to build processors specifically for quantum simulation, which represents a big commercial opportunity.

Their roadmap has an introduction of a quantum simulation processor line in 2009. NOTE: 1000 qubits would enable 2**1000 states or about 10**300. 10**80 is the number of atoms in the observable universe The 2009, 1000+ qubit quantum simulation processor would be a big boost for molecular nanotechnology research.

Honeycomb nanotubes have been created by a team in China They appear to be able to transfer the high single tube strength to the macroscale. These along with Carbon nanotube Superthreads (which was announced in 2006) seem like part of a wave of big carbon nanotube developments. They should have significant commercial impact and the potential of carbon nanotubes to strengthen and alter products will be significantly realized in 2007. The other thing that I draw from this is that the advances are happening in North America, Europe and China.


WASHINGTON (CNN) — China last week successfully used a missile to destroy an orbiting satellite, U.S. government officials told CNN on Thursday, in a test that could undermine relations with the West and pose a threat to satellites important to the U.S. military.

According to a spokesman for the National Security Council, the ground-based, medium-range ballistic missile knocked an old Chinese weather satellite from its orbit about 537 miles above Earth. The missile carried a “kill vehicle” and destroyed the satellite by ramming it.

The test took place on January 11. (Watch why the U.S. has protested the missile strike Video)

Aviation Week and Space Technology first reported the test: “Details emerging from space sources indicate that the Chinese Feng Yun 1C (FY-1C) polar orbit weather satellite launched in 1999 was attacked by an asat (anti-satellite) system launched from or near the Xichang Space Center.”

A U.S. official, who would not agree to be identified, said the event was the first successful test of the missile after three failures.

The official said that U.S. “space tracking sensors” confirmed that the satellite is no longer in orbit and that the collision produced “hundreds of pieces of debris,” that also are being tracked.

The United States logged a formal diplomatic protest.

“We are aware of it and we are concerned, and we made it known,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

Several U.S. allies, including Canada and Australia, have also registered protests, and the Japanese government said it was worrisome.

China’s leaders are merely acting in the country’s best interests. In any major conflict, the ability to knock satellites out of the sky could be invaluable. That is why the US is making such a fuss about this. The leaders of China are only human — and humans have the tendency to engage in arms races. What can be done to prevent the militarization of space? If you have ideas, give them in the comments.

Update: here’s another article from the BBC.

From JTA News:

House resolution calls for Ahmadinejad genocide charges

A bipartisan slate of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives proposed a resolution calling on the Iranian president to face genocide incitement charges.

The non-binding resolution brought last week to the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee and initiated by Reps. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), says statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for the destruction of Israel amount to crimes according to the 1948 Convention on Genocide.

The convention not only provides for punishment for genocide, Rothman and Kirk wrote in a letter to their colleagues, but “also prohibits ´direct and public incitement to commit genocide.´ It further provides that individuals committing genocidal crimes shall be punished ´whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.´ Ahmadinejad´s hateful rhetoric calling for the elimination of Israel, a Member State of the United Nations, qualifies as inciting genocide.”

Uh oh! Looks like Mahmoud may find it difficult to be a Jew-hating genocidal maniac in the future.

From United Press International:

DAYTON, Calif., Dec. 20 (UPI) — The U.S. Army awarded a $15 million contract for the development of a new type of lightweight composite armor based on nanotechnology.

The pact awarded to the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) this week will lead to new materials that can be used in vehicles and body armor.

“This is not a ground-level academic study project,” UDRI engineer Brian Rice said. “We are actually working with two Ohio companies to create a product that, if it tests out well, could show up in Iraq next year.”

Armor Holdings and TPI Composites are also involved in the project, which is under the auspices of the Army Research Laboratory. Rice said Dayton would be working with the two companies specifically on an armor package for Humvees and armored vehicles.

UDRI is home to one of the leading ballistics labs in the United States.

Rice said the planned armor “will be even stronger than existing armor, but also lighter, to reduce the top weight of the ‘up-armored’ vehicle.”

He also assured that engineers would be looking into reducing the flammability and flexibility issues inherent in many composite materials as an improvement in body armor.

UDRI said in a statement that the research would also likely lead to advances in protective materials for police and firefighters as well as other civilian applications such as vehicles, rail cars and wind-turbine blades.

There’s a huge difference between “nanotech armor” and “nanomanufactured armor”, the sort of technology we’re looking at here at Lifeboat. Nanomanufactured armor will be made of diamond or fullerenes, and lack any structural flaws, making it many times more durable than anything we have today, whether we like to call it “nanotech” or not.


The keepers of the “Doomsday Clock” plan to move its hands forward next Wednesday to reflect what they call worsening nuclear and climate threats to the world.

The symbolic clock, maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, currently is set at seven minutes to midnight, with midnight marking global catastrophe.

The group did not say in which direction the hands would move. But in a news release previewing an event next Wednesday, they said the change was based on “worsening nuclear, climate threats” to the world.

“The major new step reflects growing concerns about a ‘Second Nuclear Age’ marked by grave threats, including: nuclear ambitions in Iran and North Korea, unsecured nuclear materials in Russia and elsewhere, the continuing ‘launch-ready’ status of 2,000 of the 25,000 nuclear weapons held by the U.S. and Russia, escalating terrorism, and new pressure from climate change for expanded civilian nuclear power that could increase proliferation risks,” the release reads.

Looks like the Lifeboat Foundation isn’t the only organization that notices the threat increasing, but it is one of the few that sees beyond the nuclear and climatic threat to future threats of much greater magnitude.

An existential risk is a global catastrophic risk that threatens to exterminate humanity or severely curtail its potential. Existential risks are unique because current institutions have little incentive to mitigate them, except as a side effect of pursuing other goals. There is little to no financial return in mitigating existential risk. Bostrom (2001) argues that because reductions in existential risks are global public goods, they may be undervalued by the market. Also, because we have never confronted a major existential risk before, we have little to learn from, and little impetus to be afraid. For more information, see this reference.

There are three main categories of existential risk — threats from biotechnology, nanotechnology, and AI/robotics. Nuclear proliferation itself is not quite an existential risk, but widespread availability of nuclear weapons could greatly exacerbate future risks, providing a stepping stone into a post-nuclear arms race. We’ll look at that first, then go over the others.

Nuclear risk. The risk of nuclear proliferation is currently high. The United States is planning to spend $100 billion on developing new nuclear weapons, and reports suggest that the President is not doing enough to curtail nuclear proliferation, despite the emphasis on the War on Terror. Syria, Qatar, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates met to announce they their desire to develop nuclear technology. North Korea successfully tested a nuclear weapon in October. Iran continues enriching uranium against the will of the United Nations, and an Iranian official hinted that the country may be obtaining nuclear weapons. Last night, President Bush used the most confrontational language yet towards Iran, accusing it of directly providing weapons and funds to combatants killing US soldiers. The geopolitical situation today with respect to nuclear technology is probably the worst it has been since the Cold War.

Biotechnological risk. The risk of biotechnological disaster is currently high. An attempt among synthetic life researchers to formulate a common set of ethical standards, at the International Conference on Synthetic Biology, has failed. Among the synthetic biology and biotechnology communities, there is little recognition of the risk of genetically engineered pathogens. President Bush’s plan to spend $7.1 billion on bird flu vaccines was decreased to $2.3 billion by Congress. There is little federal money being spent on research to develop blanket countermeasures against unanticipated biotechnological threats. There are still custom DNA synthesis labs that fill orders without first scanning for harmful sequences. Watch-lists for possible bioweapon sequences are out of date, and far from comprehensive. The cost of lab equipment necessary to make bioweapons has decreased in cost and increased in performance, putting it within the financial reach of terrorist organizations. Until there is more oversight in this area, the risk will not only remain, but increase over time. For more information, see this report.

Nanotechnological risk. The risk of nanotechnological disaster is currently low. Although substantial progress has been made with custom machinery at the nanoscale, there is little effort or money going towards the development of molecular manufacturing, the most dangerous (but also most beneficial) branch of nanotechnology. Although the level of risk today is low, once it begins to escalate, it could do so very rapidly due to the self-replicating nature of molecular manufacturing. Nanotechnology researcher Chris Phoenix has published a paper on how it would be technologically feasible to go from a basic self-replicating assembler to a desktop nanofactory in a matter of weeks. His organization projects the development of nanofactories sometime before 2020. Once desktop nanofactories hit the market, it would be extremely difficult to limit their proliferation, as nanofactories could probably be used to create additional nanofactories very quickly. Unrestricted nanofactories, if made available, could be used to synthesize bombs, biological weapons, or synthetic life that is destructive to the biosphere. Important papers on nanoethics have been published by the Nanoethics Group, the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Artificial Intelligence risk. The risk from AI and robotics is currently moderate. Because we know so little about how difficult AI is as a problem, we can’t say if it will be developed in 2010 or 2050. Like nanofactories, AI is a threat that could balloon exponentially if it gets out of hand, going from “negligible risk” to “severe risk” practically overnight. There is very little attention given towards the risk of AI and how it should be handled. Some of the only papers published on the topic during 2006 were released by the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Just recently, Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, wrote “A Robot in Every Home”, outlining why he thinks robotics will be the next big revolution. There has been increased acceptance, both in academia and the public, for the possibility of AI of human-surpassing intelligence. However, the concept of seed AI continues to be poorly understood and infrequently discussed both in popular and academic discourse.

From MIT’s Technology Review:

Researchers at the University of Twente, in the Netherlands, have developed an ultrasensitive sensor that could potentially be used in a handheld device to, within minutes, detect various viruses and measure their concentration. The sensor could be used to quickly screen people at hospitals and emergency clinics to control outbreaks of diseases such as SARS and the bird flu. All it would take is a tiny sample of saliva, blood, or other body fluid.

Currently available methods to detect viruses are also sensitive. But they require laborious preparation of the fluid sample and only give results after several days. Since viral diseases can spread rapidly, researchers are looking for easier, faster ways to directly detect viruses. “You want a tool on which you apply the [fluid] sample on-site and in a few minutes say whether or not the person has the SARS virus,” says Aurel Ymeti, a postdoctoral researcher in biophysical engineering and the sensor’s lead developer.

Looks promising. Hopefully this model can be extended to other nanoscale threats, like prions and genetically engineered viruses.

From Ynet News:

Iran’s chief nuclear envoy Ali Larijani said on Friday that Iran is committed to the peaceful use of nuclear technology but warned the situation could change if his country is threatened.” We oppose obtaining nuclear weapons and we will peacefully use nuclear technology under the framework of the Nonproliferation Treaty, but if we are threatened, the situation may change,” He told a news conference after two days of talks in Beijing. Iran’s nuclear chief said his country has produced and stored 250 tons of the gas used as the feedstock for uranium enrichment, state-run television reported Friday.Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who is also the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Iran has kept the uranium hexaflouride gas, or UF-6, in underground tunnels at a nuclear facility in Isfahan to protect it from any possible attack.“Today, we have produced more than 250 tons of UF-6. Should you visit Isfahan, you will see we have constructed tunnels that are almost unique in the world,” State-run television quoted Aghazadeh as saying.
This is horrible news. Iran’s supreme ruler supposedly issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, but it’s clear that the country wants them. One can only speculate at the chaos that could be caused when Iran threatens Israel or the United States with nuclear weapons.

Over at Accelerating Future, a new interview between Michael Anissimov (a.k.a. me), and Dr. Alan Goldstein, a member of our Scientific Advisory Board who is concerned about the dangers of bionanotechnology. Here is an excerpt from the first part of the interview:

Michael Anissimov: How do you define synthetic biology (A-life)?

Dr. Alan Goldstein: It is crucial to this discussion that people recognize that Synthetic Biology is not the same as Artificial Life. I have spent a great deal of time trying to explain the difference in terms that are understandable to non-technical folks.

It is much more useful, I suggest, to think in terms of life forms:

1. Natural Biological Life forms are those created by evolution without any form of molecular manipulation by Homo sapiens.

2. Recombinant DNA-based biological life forms are still natural insofar as they only use nature’s tools to mix and match biological components, albeit at a much faster rate than can be achieved by evolution. This would include cell biology methods like somatic nuclear transfer and stem cell technology.

3. Synthetic Biology involves the same molecules used to create natural and recombinant DNA-based life forms, but the molecules themselves (DNA, RNA, proteins, the bounding membrane of the synthetic cell, etc.) are made in the laboratory de novo (i.e. from their monomeric precursors).

4. Finally, Nonbiological Life involves the introduction of molecules that have not previously been involved as essential components of living systems here on earth. We need to be very specific here because many ‘esoteric’ elements (e.g. manganese and zinc) are essential co-factors in biological enzymes. Therefore Nonbiological Life (Animats) must be clearly defined as having significant functional units (e.g. molecules) fabricated from nonbiological materials.

The purpose of the Animat Test as presented in the article “I, Nanobot” is to provide an operational method for determining when the human race breaks the Carbon Barrier ™ and creates the first nonbiological life form. I have termed such a life form an Animat (short for Anima materials).

Check out the whole thing. Dr. Goldstein really is a pioneer in a world where scientists would rather keep quiet than alert the public about the serious risks inherent in the technology they are developing.