The Dragon has landed

As you no doubt heard, SpaceX made history last month by launching the first commercial payload to the International Space Station. Just sit back and think about that for a second; we now have companies sending goods to people that are living in space. The sad part is of course that you may not have heard about it; it seems the event went by without much fanfare. People don’t understand the importance of this event. This is a company that is planning on sending people to Mars. Don’t you people want to go to Mars?

This event is much like the first New York to Paris flight or the completion of a rail road. This opens new doors and new possibilities. Anyone can ship or travel to space. Passenger liners will soon follow. (Most people don’t realize there are already two hotels in orbit.) NASA isn’t building rockets anymore. The Pirate Bay can put their file servers in orbit instead of using UAVs. Want to FedEx something to the moon? It will soon be a reality.

My genuine hope is that people don’t understand what happened, and not that they don’t care.

Life after the Singularity

There are many a nights where I fall asleep thinking of the singularity. It’s been my experience that most people don’t know what it is, so I’ll do my best to explain. Most people have heard of Moore’s Law, the theory that says computers will keep becoming more powerful as time goes on. The idea was introduced in 1965 and has remained true since then. Below is the graph version.

Moore's law

Here’s where the Singularity comes in; the human brain fits somewhere on this graph. At some point in the future, computers will be just as powerful as the human brain. This future point is somewhere around the year 2030. It’s a little later that the Skynet date of August 4, 1997, but this time it’s not a movie. This will happen and it caries real consequences. Take a few minutes and watch this video: Ray Kurzweil Explains the Coming Singularity.

It’s not the even that worries me, it’s how unprepared we are. Joe Public has such a low scientific literacy rate that a two tier class system is fast approaching; a technological sink or swim. Our education system is in no way prepared for this. By the time kids in kindergarten today graduate from college they will be competing directly with computer systems for jobs. This isn’t an exaggeration, it’s already happening. Currently, manufacturing jobs that were typically done by manual labour are being replaced with robots. The singularity makes it possible for computers to have the same effect on the arts, creative writing, inventing, engineering and investment banking. I’m not making this up.

In the next 20 years, computers will be able to mimic what we understand as a fundamental part of being human just as well as they can add numbers now. We can outsource culture to a mainframe in a basement. Again, I’m not making this up; just ask Tupac.

We need to start teaching our children TODAY the skills they will need to survive in this world.

Sugata Mitra has a good idea how to accomplish this. I’ll let him to the talking.

If children have interest, then education happens.

We need to take it a step further. As he demonstrated, teachers do not need to be experts in a certain field to teach that field. The internet is a great resource, but lets have the real experts teach and the teachers moderate. Bring in an artist to talk about perspective. Let a  civil engineer show them why they are learning how to calculate areas and volumes. I know there are bird watching groups, garden enthusiasts and hobby naturalists that would love a chance to share what they do to groups of kids.

Bringing in guest speakers once a month and letting the kids be involved in their learning will change the world. This will teach them how to be independent and critical thinkers. They will learn what is possible today and start reaching for tomorrow. Without these skills they won’t stand a chance.

The people need to know that Friendship is Magic

I was tucked into bed last night, watching an episode of My Little Pony as I have want to do. In this thrilling tale, Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle are trying to get their Cutie Marks. They appear when a Pony finds his or her own special talent. They try out all sorts of thing such as farming, sewing, dancing and comedy. They don’t have much success along the way, mostly because they are kids and kids don’t have much expertise. I won’t ruin show, you will just have to watch it for yourself.

The underlying concept and lesson that the show is trying to impress upon little kids is that you need to go out into the world and try out may different things to find out what you love and what you are good at. Makes perfect sense to me; you could be the worlds best watch maker but if you never even know there is such a job you will never try it. But when does a child in North America have this opportunity?

It’s not in K-12, that’s for sure. You are expected to be in lock-step with all the other kids. Show some creativity? That’s an F. Try and be original? Not in the marking scheme. Read ahead? Being a smart ass. Experience is created by failure. It’s just as important to know what you don’t like as what you like. Poor grades are not the sign of poor intelligence, they just mean you haven’t found your passion yet. Mr. Watson said that, I think he knows what he’s talking about.

So where does it happen? At what point do we let our children experience life without consequences? Where do they go to see new things? How do they meet people outside of their social circle? The answer is simply that they don’t. The very existence of General Studies proves that there are people in this world who, after 18 years, have not been shown enough of the world to find what they enjoy doing in life. In our technological world, this is a failing of epic proportions. I mean… .. words fail me.

The government cries that we need more skilled workers and better innovation but High Schools are closing mechanics class in favor of ballet studios because parents don’t want their kids being grease monkeys. Play dates, league sports and summer camp are no substitute for actually learning about yourself. We need to re-evaluate what is means to fail  and learn from it rather that be scared of it. In the Baby Boomers great rush to achieve the “American Dream” they created a situation that leaves the world worse off than before. Now is the time to let imagination and creativity run free, instead we are scheduling every last second of our day. Every little action is recorded online forever. Every purchase affects our credit rating. Our lives are lock-step and any attempt to be yourself is punished.

I wonder what other life lessons kids cartoons teach us that are near impossible to implement in our Jones centric world.

The Student Economy

There has been a lot of noise in the media recently about the student protest in Quebec. Rightly so; it’s an important issue that should get media coverage. However is seems the coverage is mostly biased against the students. Some people believe that the students should get in line and join the real world. I don’t know how marching in the streets, exercising your right to protest and upholding your values is not part of the real world. This sort of action can mean death in parts of the world; that seem quite real to me. The point about the “real world” is an economic one.

According to a devastating story by The Associated Press last week, more than 50 per cent of recent university graduates in the United States are either unemployed or working in jobs that don’t require bachelor’s degrees. They’re more likely to work as “waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined.”

Because these students won’t contribute as many points to the GDP as an engineer would they are some how less? Maybe they are doing what we’ve always been told to do, follow our dreams and do what makes us happy. These students could be making lattes by day and applying their degrees by night doing what ever it is they enjoy doing. By measuring their success by their ability to buy and consume; you are turning these students into commodities.  People are not commodities to be counted, rank and file, and judged.

Currently the only way we have to measure value is in dollars. Using this rational these students should pay their fair share in return for the dollars spent. There should be a measurable return on the investment, correct? This doesn’t take into account the person. If they grow up to be baristas, so what? Who are we to tell them how to live? What if they become excellent friends, fathers, aunts, coworkers, role models and citizens? If we are measuring a persons worth on their income tax, we’ve literally lost our humanity.

Yes, the students pay less for education than the rest of the country. So what? They want to keep it that way. They want to maintain their quality of life. Why would the other provinces be upset by that? The only reason I can think of it jealousy. They have it good, we wish we had it good, we want them to have it not so good so we can feel better about ourselves. This abysmal stance on leveling the playing field damages us all. This pandering to the lowest common denominator is not the way I want my country run. I want to live in a place where I’m more than just a potential economic device to be used. I don’t want other people to have to pay more if I pay more. It’s the rest of the country that should be upset that we pay so much more then Quebec.

We had to work a part time job and the next 10 years paying down our student debt, so they should too. That’s the argument? They have something good and we don’t, so they shouldn’t have something good either? I hope you can see the childish undertone to this argument. Yes, there are real financial issues surrounding the feasibility of keeping the cost of education low. Lets talk about that instead of slandering the students.


Evolution – I don’t Believe it!

When I hear that someone doesn’t believe in evolution, I imagine they are making a scholarly rebuke to commonly held principles or assumptions. There is nothing unreasonable about this, I have this issue with several theories that I simply to not believe.  For example:

I don’t believe in Time. I’m being serious here, I don’t believe time is the constant that we take for granted in out day to day lives. We count seconds, days and months, but there is no “time”. We can also measure distance. A meter here is the same as a meter somewhere else; that is not the case with time. A second is just 9192631770 vibrations of a cesium atom, at relative rest to us. I’ll save the metaphysics for another time, (HA! I’m punny) but it’s enough to know that time is a variable, time travel is possible and I don’t believe in using it as a constant. The sun and the moon care not that we think it’s 4PM on a Tuesday.

I don’t believe in Potential Energy. They teach potential energy as an opposite to kinetic (My school did anyway) as an analogy to stored energy. If I lift an apple, I store potential energy in the apple and it will fall with kinetic energy it I left it go. I find this absurd. If that were the case, I would have to factor in all the gravitational constants in the universe acting on this object, and we do not do this, we factor the earth only. Then we are not putting potential energy into the apple at all, we are creating a distance between the earth and the apple, and that attraction in the gravitational field makes the apple fall, my arm did nothing to the apple. In fact, the higher we lift the object the less the gravitational force. My 10 year old self got quite angry at a few teachers because they maintained potential energy was real. Bah.

 But I digress. When I hear someone does not believe in evolution, this is what I assume. I assume they have an alternate theory that does not use an assumption commonly held but comes to the same conclusion. I still use a watch and I still believe objects fall, but I don’t agree with their common explanations.  This is the only possible explanation I have. I categorize people who reject evolution in the same place I put Unicorns and Tax Free Income, imagination land. That these people may actually exist is outside my understandable universe. They do believe in evolution, they just don’t know it.

Read on and I’ll explain.

Shepherds are in the bible so I’m assuming most people familiar with Christian dogma knows what a Shepherd is. The act of caring for domestic animals lends it’s self to explaining evolution. Any farmer worth their salt knows about breeding animals. By breeding animals with desirable traits their offspring inherit these traits. If we keep doing this, we get different breeds of sheep. This is not natural selection, it’s selection. This is human beings doing the selecting and creating new life forms. These changes are visible because we accelerate the process and monitor it. The changes happen on a human time scale. (SEE! Time as we know it doesn’t make sense!)

Selective breeding is evolution in action. Full stop. If you understand that black sheep have black babies, white sheep have white babies; you understand the underlying concept of genetics. We choose what traits we want, and we breed those animals that have those traits. Over many generations the offspring evolve so they have desirable traits and lose undesirable ones. This is called evolution.

 To reiterate, I do not believe in the theory that evolution-deniers exists; they are simply evolution-don’t-understanders.

Planetary Resources

Tuesday the world received great news. Planetary Resources  went public with their intentions to mine near-earth asteroids. I have been waiting for new like this for many a year. After reading Mining the Sky a few years ago, my perception of resources changed; the same way my perception of energy changed after reading Sustainable Energy: Without the hot air. I used both these book as sources when I did my presentation at the Ontario Engineering Competition in 2011.  The main point to take away from all of this is that humans do not have a resource problem, the earth does. Now we have a group of people pushing science fiction into reality.

The solution is simple, look for resource sources off-world. We live on a small island in the vast ocean that is our solar system and the solutions to our problems are out in space. I’m optimistic for our future when I hear about powerful people using their intellect and financial capital to put plans in place to get humans to the stars. For those of you who haven’t heard of the X-Prize, shame on you. Their CEO, Peter H. Diamandis came up with the idea to use cash prizes to create an incentive to innovate. The model for this prize was the Orteig Prize that basically created the aviation industry as we know it by showing possibilities. That’s what this is about, possibilities. What can we do with near infinite resources? What will we accomplish if everyone has basic education? What heights can we achieve when all basic needs are met?

After watching the press release for the company, I went and bough this book by one of the founding members of Planetary Resources. It’s been on my radar for a while now,  so I decided it was time to see what the fuss was about. I’m about 10 pages in and he’s already made his point very well. I’ll have to see if he talks about digital media, because the infinite nature of digital information it at great odds with our market system of scarcity… But that’s another topic all together.

In any event, interplanetary gas stations, orbital manufacturing plants and abundant resources are in the cards for the future.