On Cultural Appropriation and Literature

Lionel Shriver gave a provocative speech at the Brisbane Literary Festival, where she raged against the idea of cultural appropriation as essentially destroying literature. Unfortunately, like many white people who are made upset by this discussion, Shriver engages in some straw man slaying, along with more than a bit of tendentiousness, while missing the point of […]

Continue reading →

So You Want to Steal A Space Station

NASA Johnson Let’s be honest: building space stations is a difficult, expensive business. Constructing one takes an extraordinary effort: the ISS, for example, required more than 100 EVAs to assemble and maintain its 159 components, and that is despite extensive usage of Russia’s advanced autonomous spaceflight systems. Launching this stuff into space is no joke: […]

Continue reading →

Jurisdiction in Space Is a Hard Problem

The Federal Aviation Administration has just granted permission (pdf) to Moon Express to send its first lander to the Lunar in 2018. It’s a big move: the first time a privately owned company has established concrete plans to send a commercial mission beyond Earth’s immediate vicinity, and it will most likely be the first attempt to commercially […]

Continue reading →

Against the Transparency Movement

In the midst of an unprecedented event in American electoral history, in which a hostile foreign power mobilized some credulous writers to help it attack a political party and engineer the outcome of a presidential race, I think it’s worth looking back on the last six years or so of “movement transparency,” as spearheaded by […]

Continue reading →

Space Colonies Are Cool. And Economically Impossible.

At the Re:Code conference this week, Amazon CEO and rocketship manufacturer Jeff Bezos made some bold claims about going into space. “We will settle Mars,” he told the audience. “And we should, because it’s cool.” Mars colonies are cool if you don’t think about them very much. But colonization never happens simply because it is […]

Continue reading →

That Ben Rhodes Profile

By now most people who care will have read this fawning profile in the New York Times Magazine of Ben Rhodes, the President’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. And there are a lot of odious things in that profile, from Rhodes’ smarmy combination of cynicism and know-nothingness, to his rich mother giving him a hand out […]

Continue reading →

What Do “Values” Even Mean to an Artificial Intelligence?

Over at Future Tense, Adam Elkus poses a very interesting question I’ve covered here before: Which brings us back to Russell’s optimistic assumptions that computer scientists can sidestep these social questions through superior algorithms and engineering efforts. Russell is an engineer, not a humanities scholar. When he talks about “tradeoffs” and “value functions,” he assumes […]

Continue reading →

Vaporware to the Stars

A Russian billionaire has decided to send a bunch of iPhones to Alpha Centauri. If it all worked out — a cosmically big “if” that would occur decades and perhaps $10 billion from now — a rocket would deliver a “mother ship” carrying a thousand or so small probes to space. Once in orbit, the […]

Continue reading →

The Evolution of Robot Panic

The strange campaign to halt robotics and computer research has undergone something of an evolution since its previous few years of crazed sky-is-falling advocacy about automation and imagery sensors failed to get any traction among the world’s decision-making bodies. While their first round of imagery was dominated by an inexplicable obsession with a singular science fiction […]

Continue reading →

Why Would You Want to Live in an Orbital Habitat?

This post is part of an on-going series. See the other posts here. There is a great post over at SF Signal by author Rob Boffard, about the feasibility of constructing a large-scale permanent habitat in orbit over Earth. It’s a neat thought experiment: Getting stuff into space, and keeping it there, is hideously expensive. Even something […]

Continue reading →