Stephen Hawking is worried about aliens. The famous physicist recently suggested that we should be wary of contact with extraterrestrials, citing what happened to Native Americans when Europeans landed on their shores. Since any species that could visit us would be far beyond our own technological level, meeting them could be bad news. Hawking was extrapolating the possible consequences of my day job: a small but durable exercise known as SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Although we have yet to detect an alien ping, improvements in technology have encouraged us to think that, if transmitting extraterrestrials are out there, we might soon find them. That would be revolutionary. But some people, Hawking included, sense a catastrophe. Seth Shostak, head of SETI's search effort, disagrees: We have been inadvertently betraying our presence for 60 years with our television, radio and radar transmissions. The earliest episodes of I Love Lucy have washed over 6000 or so star systems, and are reaching new audiences at the rate of one solar system a day. If there are sentient beings out there, the signals will reach them.
The Pentagon’s blue-sky research arm has outdone itself this time. Darpa’s got two new projects that are ambitious in scope, even by their standards. So maybe that explains why the agency opted to enlist some awesomely bad superhero acronyms to characterize the way-out endeavors. Darpa’s launching Biochronicity and Temporal Mechanisms Arising in Nature (BaTMAN), in an effort to better understand “the spatio-temporal universe,” and, from there, “transform biology from a descriptive to a predictive field of science.” It’s an area the Darpa’s been exploring for years, especially when it comes to quantum effects in nature. Just last year, they launched an effort to uncover more “tantalizing evidence” of biological systems that “operate using ‘manifestly’ quantum effects.” Eventually, Darpa wants to apply nature’s quantum smarts to tools like biomimetic sensors and quantum radar. In other words, apply inclinations found in nature, like collective behavior and complex, adaptable networks, to improve human interactions.
Forbes's Public D is less revolutionary than evolutionary. U.S. bicycles are mostly based on racing and mountain bikes. But Forbes drew on Britain's 19th-century "double diamond," the ancestor of the modern European city bike. He tweaked the classic, reducing the tire size and turning the handlebars up for a more ergonomically friendly ride. The biggest change was the frame's material. "In Holland, bikes are big old lunkers. They're, like, 45 pounds," Forbes says. "We had to bring that down. Our topography tends to be more varied than their flatlands, and bikers here often have to carry their bikes upstairs." The solution: lightweight steel that saves nearly 20 pounds. (The $690 3-speed D weighs just over 27 pounds.)