The First Trillionaires Will Make Their Fortunes in Space
Near-Earth Asteroids are a threat to our planet, but they also represent an opportunity to generate enormous wealth, and may drive the commercial space race.
From 2011-2014, Daniel Honan was the Managing Editor at Big Think. Prior to Big Think, Daniel was Vice President of Production for Plum TV, a niche cable network he helped launch in 2002. The production team he oversaw won over two dozen Emmy awards. Daniel has created numerous shows and documentaries for television, and his film credits include Stealing the Fire, a documentary on the black market for nuclear weapons technology.
Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanielHonan
What's the Big Idea?
Just as explorers during the Age of Discovery established new trade routes in pursuit of resources such as gold, silver and spices, the future explorers of space will be chasing unimaginable riches. As Peter Diamandis told the International Space Development Conference, “There are twenty-trillion-dollar checks up there, waiting to be cashed!” These cosmic cash cows are so-called Near-Earth asteroids that contain a wide range of precious resources.
Sure, this may sound a lot like the movie Avatar, in which the RDA Corporation mined the mineral unobtanium on the planet of Pandora. But this is no pie-in-the-sky idea. Twenty trillion USD is the estimated market value of a relatively small metallic asteroid that was first calculated by John S. Lewis in his book Mining The Sky: Untold Riches from the Asteroids, Comets, and Planets. Lewis argued that "using presently available or readily foreseeable technologies, we can relieve Earth of its energy problem, make astronomical amounts of raw materials available, and raise the living standard of people worldwide."
Peter Diamandis, who founded the non-profit X Prize Foundation to create a rewards incentive program to bring about "radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity," believes the enormous financial opportunities in space will spur innovation. He notes that everything we hold of value, "the things we fight wars over," such as metals, minerals and real estate, exist "in infinite quantities in space."
What's the significance?
While the idea of mining space for resources is not a new one, we are closer than ever today to realizing that reality. As NASA is set to retire its space shuttle fleet and get out of the business of developing and operating its own spacecraft, it will rely on private companies to transport its astronauts to the orbiting International Space Station. Already this has created an enormous opening for commercial space enterprises. In the coming decades, according to Diamandis, we will see "private companies and private teams making b-lines for the moon."
Bretton Alexander, President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation noted the historic change that is expected to happen later this year. After the final space shuttle mission of the Endeavor, "the next vehicle to carry astronauts into space from Florida's Space Coast will be a commercial spacecraft," he said.
Diamandis sees a promising price improvement curve as what used to take one billion dollars and twenty thousand people to get a space shuttle into orbit can now happen with "a team of twenty people funded by a single individual." In the evolution of space travel, he says "the military industrial complex of Boeing, Lockheed and NASA are the dinosaurs" and today's entrepreneurs are "the furry mammals."
Why Should I Care?
Asteroids represent a dual threat and opportunity for humanity. In the starkest terms, an asteroid collision could lead to the extinction of the human race, as presented in this terrifying computer-simulated video. And yet, asteroids also represent an opportunity for the salvation of the human race. Asteroids contain a wide range of resources, including nickel-iron metal, silicate minerals, trapped or frozen gasses, and water, which could be utilized by a spacecraft's steam propulsion rocket for a return trip to Earth. Asteroids have also been thought of as a possible site for the colonization of space. After all, it was the impact of asteroids that transformed life on Earth and may have made human life possible in the first place.
As Peter Diamandis has noted, there are many motivations for going to space. It was curiosity that drove NASA's budgets for fifty years. Another fundamental motivator to go to space is to back up the biosphere. Diamandis suggests that we "record all of the genomes on this planet, all the works of art, and back it up off earth."
Twenty trillion dollars isn't bad motivation either, and the drive to create wealth from space may very well prove the key to human survival and our future prosperity.
Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @DanielHonan
Why self-control makes your life better, and how to get more of it.
(Photo by Geem Drake/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
- Research demonstrates that people with higher levels of self-control are happier over both the short and long run.
- Higher levels of self-control are correlated with educational, occupational, and social success.
- It was found that the people with the greatest levels of self-control avoid temptation rather than resist it at every turn.
Ready your Schrödinger's Cat Jokes.
- For a time, quantum computing was more theory than fact.
- That's starting to change.
- New quantum computer designs look like they might be scalable.
Quantum computing has existed in theory since the 1980's. It's slowly making its way into fact, the latest of which can be seen in a paper published in Nature called, "Deterministic teleportation of a quantum gate between two logical qubits."
To ensure that we're all familiar with a few basic terms: in electronics, a 'logic gate' is something that takes in one or more than one binary inputs and produces a single binary output. To put it in reductive terms: if you produce information that goes into a chip in your computer as a '0,' the logic gate is what sends it out the other side as a '1.'
A quantum gate means that the '1' in question here can — roughly speaking — go back through the gate and become a '0' once again. But that's not quite the whole of it.
A qubit is a single unit of quantum information. To continue with our simple analogy: you don't have to think about computers producing a string of information that is either a zero or a one. A quantum computer can do both, simultaneously. But that can only happen if you build a functional quantum gate.
That's why the results of the study from the folks at The Yale Quantum Institute saying that they were able to create a quantum gate with a "process fidelity" of 79% is so striking. It could very well spell the beginning of the pathway towards realistic quantum computing.
The team went about doing this through using a superconducting microwave cavity to create a data qubit — that is, they used a device that operates a bit like a organ pipe or a music box but for microwave frequencies. They paired that data qubit with a transmon — that is, a superconducting qubit that isn't as sensitive to quantum noise as it otherwise could be, which is a good thing, because noise can destroy information stored in a quantum state. The two are then connected through a process called a 'quantum bus.'
That process translates into a quantum property being able to be sent from one location to the other without any interaction between the two through something called a teleported CNOT gate, which is the 'official' name for a quantum gate. Single qubits made the leap from one side of the gate to the other with a high degree of accuracy.
Above: encoded qubits and 'CNOT Truth table,' i.e., the read-out.
The team then entangled these bits of information as a way of further proving that they were literally transporting the qubit from one place to somewhere else. They then analyzed the space between the quantum points to determine that something that doesn't follow the classical definition of physics occurred.
They conclude by noting that "... the teleported gate … uses relatively modest elements, all of which are part of the standard toolbox for quantum computation in general. Therefore ... progress to improve any of the elements will directly increase gate performance."
In other words: they did something simple and did it well. And that the only forward here is up. And down. At the same time.
These modern-day hermits can sometimes spend decades without ever leaving their apartments.
- A hikikomori is a type of person in Japan who locks themselves away in their bedrooms, sometimes for years.
- This is a relatively new phenomenon in Japan, likely due to rigid social customs and high expectations for academic and business success.
- Many believe hikikomori to be a result of how Japan interprets and handles mental health issues.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.