Today's "Planet Earth Report" --Superintelligence Apocalypse, SpaceX's Zuma 'Spy-Novel' Mystery, Contacting Alien Civilizations
January 10, 2018. Links to today's headline stories from around the world on the threats, opportunities, and dangers facing our fragile planet --along with an occasional dash of humor, popular culture, and an intriguing conspiracy theory or two. Today's coverage includes Human Activity Healing the Ozone Hole, Astronaut Grows 3½ Inches in Space, U.S. to Loosen Nuclear Weapons Constraints, New SyFy 'Krypton' Series, UFO Legacy: What Impact Will Revelation of Secret Government Program Have? and more.
The rise of powerful artificial intelligence, professor Stephen Hawking once warned, will be “either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity.” Unfortunately, by the time we find out which, it may already be too late—but a new video game simulation may offer clues as to what we might expect.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk have built a "Superintelligence" modification for the classic strategy game Civilization 5 that envisions a scenario in which a smarter-than-human AI is introduced to society.
One outcome offers a dire prophecy of the demise of humanity, achieving the game’s aim of helping players better understand the existential threat posed by advanced artificial intelligence.
“Artificial intelligence can initially provide some benefits, and eventually can turn into superintelligence that brings mastery of science to its discoverer,” the researchers write in the add-on’s description. “However, if too much artificial intelligence research goes uncontrolled, rogue superintelligence can destroy humanity and bring an instant loss of the game.”
In this scenario, a message appears in the game that reads: “A device for creating utopia on Earth has been discovered, and your civilization was not the one to discover it. Future generations will live in a perfect world, but someone else’s perfect world, as your civilization lies forgotten in the ancient books of history.”
On Sunday night, SpaceX underwent its first mission of 2018. Elon Musk’s aerospace company was contracted by the U.S. government to launch a secret spy satellite, known as “Zuma,” made by the military contractor company Northrop Grumman Corporation, into low-Earth orbit.
Everything seemed to go off without a hitch. Liftoff of the Falcon 9 went smoothly and the rocket booster later landed safely back near Cape Canaveral. SpaceX had apparently completed its third classified mission for the U.S. government, until reports came out Monday saying that Zuma never made it to orbit and is presumed to be a total loss.
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that government officials had been briefed about the alleged destruction of the secretive payload. No clear answers were provided, just a lot of vague statements reiterating that this mission was classified. This sparked space enthusiasts across the internet to begin theorizing about what exactly happened to Zuma.
Their resounding answer to a spy satellite estimated to be worth over a billion dollars simply vanishing? Suuuuuuuuure it did.
Believers in aliens visiting Earth's friendly skies via Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) couldn't ask for more: A secretive government group backed by federal "black money," a talkative former U.S. military intelligence official, fighter-jet video of odd objects doing out-of-this-world maneuvers and a space mogul purportedly housing leftovers of unidentified aerial craft.
It all has the feel of sliding open a top drawer in a new "X-Files" TV episode.
Yes, "the truth is out there," a maxim made all the stranger by reports last month by both The New York Times and Politico Magazine of the secretive Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, or AATIP for short. Along with the reporting, a video was released by the Department of Defense showing a 2004 encounter near San Diego involving two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets and an unknown object. [UFO Watch: 8 Times the Government Looked for Flying Saucers]
AATIP was originated by then-United States Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who garnered taxpayer dollars to start the program in 2007, along with the support of the late senators Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
But behind the scenes is Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace, a Harry Reid political donor in Nevada. A hefty chunk of the AATIP's $22 million budget over five years was reportedly given to Bigelow's company to hire subcontractors and carry out research for the program.
Now toss into the mix Luis Elizondo, the former intelligence officer who ran the AATIP, which initially was under the wing of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He resigned from the job last October, advising CNN post-departure that it was his personal belief "that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone."
Elizondo also told CNN that the craft studied by AATIP "are displaying characteristics that are not currently within the U.S. inventory nor in any foreign inventory that we are aware of." [7 Things Most Often Mistaken for UFOs]
Jan Harzan, the executive director of the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), sees the eye-opening reporting as a "turning point in the study of UFOs." He said his organization is excited about the events beginning to unfold "and feel[s] the public and everyone on this planet should be as well."
The Trump administration plans to loosen constraints on the use of nuclear weapons and develop a new low-yield nuclear warhead for US Trident missiles, according to a former official who has seen the most recent draft of a policy review.
Jon Wolfsthal, who was special assistant to Barack Obama on arms control and nonproliferation, said the new nuclear posture review prepared by the Pentagon, envisages a modified version of the Trident D5 submarine-launched missiles with only part of its normal warhead, with the intention of deterring Russia from using tactical warheads in a conflict in Eastern Europe.
The new nuclear policy is significantly more hawkish that the posture adopted by the Obama administration, which sought to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in US defence.
Arms control advocates have voiced alarm at the new proposal to make smaller, more “usable” nuclear weapons, arguing it makes a nuclear war more likely, especially in view of what they see as Donald Trump’s volatility and readiness to brandish the US arsenal in showdowns with the nation’s adversaries.
The NPR also expands the circumstances in which the US might use its nuclear arsenal, to include a response to a non-nuclear attack that caused mass casualties, or was aimed at critical infrastructure or nuclear command and control sites.
Norishige Kanai, lower right, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, on the International Space Station last month with, from top left, Alexander Misurkin of Russia's Roscosmos and Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA, and, from lower left, NASA’s Scott Tingle and Roscosmos's Anton Shkaplerov. (NASA/AP)
If you’re short and want to gain a few inches, you’re in luck — become an astronaut and feel taller. At least while you’re in space.
Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai said Monday on Twitter that he is 3½ inches taller since arriving at the International Space Station on Dec. 19. Weightlessness has that effect: Without gravitational force compressing the spine, fluid between the discs fluctuates as they temporarily expand, like a coiled spring unspooled from the top.
“Good morning, everyone. Today I share some serious news. Since coming to space, I have grown 9 centimeters. This is the most I’ve grown in 3 weeks since junior high school,” Kanai wrote.
Three and a half inches is a notable height difference. NASA has said about two inches of growth is typical and expected in space.
“Nine centimeters is a lot, but it is possible, knowing that every human body is different,” said Libby Jackson, a program manager for the United Kingdom Space Agency, the BBC reported.
Should Humans Try to Contact Alien Civilizations?
A ban on the harmful CFCs that contributed to the depletion of the ozone layer has had the desired effect. Researchers have noted a 20 percent decrease in ozone depletion during the Antarctic winter in recent years than there was in 2005.
According to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), scientists have, for the first time, produced proof that the recovery of the ozone hole is attributable to human action.
Every September, the Antarctic ozone hole forms after rays from the Sun catalyze ozone destruction cycles. These cycles involve chlorine and bromine, which mostly come from chlorine-containing human-made chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were banned in 1996.
Past research on the ozone has focused on the hole’s size, but for their research, the GSFC team actually measured the chemical composition within the ozone hole.
Using the Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) aboard the Aura satellite, the researchers were able to measure hydrochloric acid, which is created when chlorine, after it destroys almost all available ozone, reacts with methane.
They concluded that chlorine levels declined by approximately 0.8 percent each year and noted a 20 percent decrease in ozone depletion in the Antarctic winter than there was in 2005.
“We see very clearly that chlorine from CFCs is going down in the ozone hole, and that less ozone depletion is occurring because of it,” said Susan Strahan, the study’s lead author and an atmospheric scientist at GSFC, in a news release.
When Caleb Wilvich read about the first woman in the U.S. to have a baby via a uterine transplant in early December, they were stoked. Wilvich, who uses the pronoun “they,” has always wanted to give birth, and never had a uterus. Wilvich is 29 and works an office job in a suburb of Seattle; in their free time, they’re a piano player and an a capella singer. They identify as genderqueer and transfeminine, assigned male at birth and living in a more ambiguous, feminine gender today.
Their gender dysphoria, they tell me, “is hard to describe to a cis [non-trans] person.” Suffice it to say that being male-assigned, with a beard and leg hair, means it’s not easy for them to inhabit the body they imagine for themselves. “Since before puberty, I’ve wanted the ability to be able to just snap my fingers and become a cisgender woman. I don’t even care about conventional attractiveness.”
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has been abused by the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans. This week the House of Representatives will vote on a bill to make that legal.
On Tuesday afternoon, a handful of US Representatives will convene to review an amendment that would reauthorize warrantless foreign surveillance and expand the law so that it could include American citizens. It would, in effect, legalize a surveillance practice abandoned by the NSA in 2017 in order to appease the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which found the NSA to have abused its collection capacity several times. If it passes Tuesday’s review, the bill may be voted on by the US House of Representatives as early as Thursday.
Drafted by the House Intelligence Committee last December, the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 is an amendment to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). It is one of six different FISA-related bills under consideration by Congress at the moment, but by far the most damaging to the privacy rights of American citizens.
“The story of my family is one of triumph and sacrifice,” Seg-El, Superman’s grandfather, says in the new trailer. Seg-El will be portrayed by Cameron Cuffe (Florence Foster Jenkins) and looks to be in his mid-twenties by human standards in this series. Seg-El speaks about how his family previously “led a revolution against tyranny. And now it falls on my shoulders to save my world.”
Decades before Superman became the hero of Earth, his family was fighting for its survival. Krypton, a new show from Syfy that will act as a straight-up Superman prequel series, just got its first trailer on Tuesday, and it looks like long-time DC and Superman fans are in for a real treat with this one.
When Adam Strange, portrayed by Shaun Sipos, shows up to warn Seg-El of an impending doom, Seg-El has to jump into action to save his world — and the universe at large.
“Someone from the future is coming to destroy Krypton because, where I’m from, your grandson becomes the greatest hero of the universe,” Adam tells Seg-El. In DC’s comics, Adam Strange similarly travels back in time to warn Superman’s grandfather of a plot to destroy Superman even before his birth. Adam Strange will be joined by Brainiac, a classic DC villain with, of course, ties to Superman. Brainiac will be portrayed by Blake Ritson.
The science and tech world has been abuzz about quantum computers for years, but the devices are not yet affecting our daily lives. Quantum systems could seamlessly encrypt data, help us make sense of the huge amount of data we’ve already collected, and solve complex problems that even the most powerful supercomputers cannot – such as medical diagnostics and weather prediction.
That nebulous quantum future became one step closer this November, when top-tier journal Nature published two papers that showed some of the most advanced quantum systems yet.
If you still don’t understand what a quantum computer is, what it does, or what it could do for you, never fear. Futurism recently spoke with Mikhail Lukin, a physics professor at Harvard University and the senior author of one of those papers, about the current state of quantum computing, when we might have quantum technology on our phones or our desks, and what it will take for that to happe
A genetic database that holds DNA from thousands of African rhinoceroses has secured the convictions of poachers and led to stiffer criminal sentences since its establishment eight years ago, researchers say. However, not all scientists are convinced the effort is worthwhile.
In an 8 January paper in Current Biology1, researchers highlight the database, which has been used in more than 120 cases. In one examplhttps://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-00273-5e, rhino poacher Simon Ngomane was sentenced to 28 years in prison last year, following a 2011 shootout with rangers in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. He was convicted, in part, because of DNA evidence that linked two freshly cut horns to an animal that had just been slaughtered in the park.
“The majority of cases in which we have been able to make these individual links have led to convictions and, in many cases, significant sentences,” says Cindy Harper, a veterinary geneticist at the University of Pretoria in South Africa who began developing the database in 2010 to provide evidence that could be used in legal proceedings.