from the world's big
Some of the world's top minds weigh in on one of the most divisive questions in tech.
- When it comes to the question of whether AI is an existential threat to the human species, you have Elon Musk in one corner, Steven Pinker in another, and a host of incredible minds somewhere in between.
- In this video, a handful of those great minds—Elon Musk, Steven Pinker, Michio Kaku, Max Tegmark, Luis Perez-Breva, Joscha Bach and Sophia the Robot herself—weigh in on the many nuances of the debate and the degree to which AI is a threat to humanity; if it's not a species-level threat, it will still upend our world as we know it.
- What's your take on this debate? Let us know in the comments!
SpaceX's momentous Crew Dragon launch is a sign of things to come for the space industry, and humanity's future.
- SpaceX was founded in 2002 and was an industry joke for many years. Eighteen years later, it is the first private company to launch astronauts to the International Space Station.
- Today, SpaceX's Crew Dragon launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS. The journey will take about 19 hours.
- Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, looks at SpaceX's journey from startup to a commercial space company with the operating power of a nation-state.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
The humblest of beginnings<p>SpaceX was an inside joke for many in the space industry establishment even years after its founding. Its first three launches famously and spectacularly failed, leading to not only snickers among the industry elite, but stressing SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk, down to literally their last dollar. <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/29/elon-musk-9-years-ago-spacex-nearly-failed-itself-out-of-existence.html" target="_blank">As Musk has related several times</a>, SpaceX's fourth launch was a "make or break." Had it failed, the company would have filed for bankruptcy. Thankfully, that launch was successful and SpaceX has really never looked back. The industry insiders who doubt SpaceX still exist, but their snickers have turned to more nuanced criticism, including that SpaceX unfairly benefits from government contracting. Which is ironic for an industry that has been built on a defense contracting model. The truth is, SpaceX has made space cool again. One only needs to compare its rocket launch telecasts with those of their competitors. One has Hollywood-level production quality and attracts over <a href="https://www.theverge.com/2018/2/6/16981730/spacex-falcon-heavy-launch-youtube-live-stream-record" target="_blank">1 million live viewers per launch</a> and the others seem dated, uninspired and draw 25,000 viewers on their best day. This has led to SpaceX being one of the employers of choice in the space industry, despite its legendary long hours and difficult working environment. Attracting top talent has been one of the reasons SpaceX has been able to achieve its miraculous product success.</p>
A big bet<p>Once SpaceX learned to launch rockets, Musk's product vision became more futuristic. Just like it doesn't make sense to fly a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_A380" target="_blank">$400M</a> Airbus 380 from Dubai to Los Angeles only to throw the airplane away after landing, Musk challenged the industry to reuse its rocket boosters. This vision was <a href="https://blog.spexcast.com/spacex-develop-resuable-rockets/" target="_blank">audacious</a> and was faced with massive skepticism in the industry. Despite this, SpaceX stuck its first landing of a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEr9cPpuAx8" target="_blank">single rocket booster</a> on April 8, 2016. Stuck its first <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3dvELj9kkU" target="_blank">dual rocket booster</a> landing on February 6, 2018 and even stuck a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVqWEoyiaBA" target="_blank">triple landing</a> on April 12, 2019. It has now landed 49 out of its last 51 attempts. This has literally changed the game in terms of both launch costs, but also cycle time (the amount of time needed between launches). It is a game changer that will be further stretched when the potentially revolutionary heavy rocket <a href="https://www.spacex.com/vehicles/starship/" target="_blank">Starship</a> is rolled out sometime in the next year. In addition to the boosters, SpaceX also recovers other parts from the launch including the fairing, which houses the actual payload of the launch.</p>
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley inside Crew Dragon.
Criticism and triumph<p>Elon Musk has his critics, and certainly he has his lieutenants who do not get enough credit for their impact on SpaceX's achievements, such a SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell, but, regardless, it is indisputable that SpaceX has achieved a level of capability that is truly shocking in a relativity short period of time. Should SpaceX be celebrated for its persistence, entrepreneurism, innovation and ultimate value creation? Without question. Is SpaceX finished pushing boundaries and achieving what others thought was impossible? Not even close. If Musk stays healthy and avoids a Howard Hughes moment, as many fear, it is hard to doubt his ability to make his dream of landing humans on Mars a reality within his next 18 years (if not sooner).</p>
The Crew Dragon demonstration of the launch escape system.
The lessons we've learned here on Earth will affect how we govern a new world.
- The colonization of Mars is a real possibility for the not-too-distant future. A big question that author Michael Shermer and others are considering is how what we know about government on Earth will shape the politics of a new planet.
- Favored by Elon Musk, Shermer shoots down the suggestion of a direct democracy because he says that historically it does not work. Direct democracy can lead to a "mob mentality" where hysterics overtake logic, leading to witch hunts and other bad consequences.
- Shermer explains why he thinks the government on Mars will, in many ways, mirror what we know as a representative democracy. There will be constitutional republic and a Bill of Rights that determines what people can and can't do.
Astronaut Garrett Reisman talks NASA, SpaceX, and where we're headed next.
- 2020 is off to rocky start, but there are some exciting things happening on the space travel front.
- Private companies like SpaceX and Boeing have partnered with NASA to get American spacecrafts into space, back to the moon, and onwards to Mars.
- "I think in a hundred years first of all we're going to be celebrating 2020, so 2120 get ready for a big party," says astronaut Garrett Reisman.
A mission is planned for just three weeks from now, but NASA has a plan.
- Before liftoff on every mission since 1971, NASA crew members spend two weeks in a "health stabilization" quarantine.
- Other employees of the agency have been given a response framework that tells them where and how to proceed with their duties.
- For upcoming launches, NASA is depending on Russia and SpaceX to step up to the challenge.
Taking a picture outside the ISS
Image source: NASA.gov<p>It's comforting to know that NASA has for some time been careful about allowing germs aloft. Before every mission, dating back to the Apollo 14 launch in 1971, crew members heading for orbit must first spend two weeks in a "<a href="https://lsda.jsc.nasa.gov/Experiment/exper/405" target="_blank">health stabilization</a>" quarantine. Prior to its implementation, pre-flight illnesses were a concern and a <a href="https://history.nasa.gov/SP-368/s7ch2.htm" target="_blank">relatively common</a> occurrence.</p><p>Prior to entering the quarantine for the upcoming mission, NASA will be testing crew members for coronavirus infection.</p><p>One of the mission's crew is a cosmonaut from Kazakhstan (the location of the launch site). This past weekend, the nation reported its first coronavirus test and then <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/03/15/world/asia/15reuters-health-coronavirus-kazakhstan-emergency.html" target="_blank">closed its borders</a> to outsiders.</p><p>NASA's team will be allowed entry, though the launch personnel roster is being pared down to as few people as possible. Safe travel arrangements are still being assessed. No reporters will be allowed to attend the launch, and the Russian state space corporation, Roscosmos, will take the unusual step of live-streaming the launch, as NASA usually does.</p>
Coming home from the ISS<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg4MTY5MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjg2MTUwN30.0NSEUgpDkyDpNAXEOG5_pXALRXPPfNiy3ZTnlkDLejA/img.jpg?width=980" id="e84ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="77ec0a66d1ec08aa623c56771f8b2480" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Soyuz MS-08 landss near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan in 2018
Image source: NASA/Bill Ingalls<p>In the middle of April, a return for some ISS crew members is on the calendar. Expected to land aboard a Soyuz capsule are presumably virus-free Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir from the U.S, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka. The capsule will come down in the Kazhak desert, a type of landing that in normal times requires a large number of recovery personnel to retrieve returning crew. NASA has not yet announced plans to modify this cohort of rescuers.</p>
Earth to Elon<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg4MTY5My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjAwOTM5NX0.8tSqCedgQqCjWJ_sBsA_Sf-euX0fjRjT8Iq5gXIZKU4/img.jpg?width=980" id="e7f7d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="22428c26924c56ce0edc1962da239b55" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="ISS crew inside SpaceDragon capsule" />
ISS crew inside SpaceDragon capsule on March 9
Image source: NASA.gov<p>Perhaps the most worrying upcoming mission is the one planned in cooperation with SpaceX and currently scheduled for May. So far, things are proceeding as planned, though SpaceX founder Elon Musk last week sent an <a href="https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/13/21179291/elon-musk-coronavirus-tesla-memo-car-accident-deaths-comparison" target="_blank">alarming email</a> to employees. In it he downplayed the seriousness of coronavirus, arguing that more people die in car crashes. His commentary raises concerns regarding whether or not SpaceX can be relied on to proceed with the requisite level of caution.</p><p>The mission is an important one. It's a key step in <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/commercial/crew/index.html" target="_blank">NASA's Commercial Crew Program</a>, marking the first time a privately-funded vehicle would be transporting people to and from the ISS. SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule has already paid one visit to the space station, <a href="https://www.spacex.com/news/2020/03/09/dragon-arrives-international-space-station" target="_blank">successfully docking</a> on March 9 as shown in the photo above.</p>
Resume countdown<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjg4MTY5Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDQzMzA1OX0.Qt9r57Errd6pgXJNAA-rUdqLktcybuHgzf_lGwWSO24/img.jpg?width=980" id="fff44" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="820aeeffde4ddcfd236105f77f74173d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="NASA Response Framework" />
Image source: NASA.gov<p>As far as NASA's Earth-bound employees go, the agency has a <a href="https://nasapeople.nasa.gov/coronavirus/nasa_response_framework.pdf" target="_blank">four-stage classification system</a> for how and where to work. The coronavirus response framework (above) covers Central Access, Health & Safety, Meetings & Events, and Travel.</p><p>So as of now, NASA's plans for the next three missions remain on-track, with modifications made where possible in response to COVID-19 challenges. Of course, things are changing almost daily, and NASA has made it clear that they plan to continually re-assess their mission plans as events warrant.</p>