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Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Friday, February 12th, 2016

The Wheel: A Great Innovation?

The Wheel

“Wheeled transport is not an obviously good idea. People who insist that it was truly revolutionary ignore the fact that many societies that became aware of wheeled vehicles over the centuries chose not to use them. It took so many other innovations over a long period of time to make the wheel useful.” — Richard Bulliet

This week, our featured book is The Wheel: Inventions and Reinventions, by Richard W. Bulliet. Today, for the final day of our feature, we are happy to present “The Wheel: A Great Innovation,” an article by Richard Bulliet that was originally published in the Innovation in Practice Blog.

People who believe that the wheel is the greatest invention ever assume two things: That it was wholly new when it was invented, and that is was so wonderful that people adopted it immediately. Historically, neither is true.

What is true is that three different types of wheels evolved over time, but none of them were as great as sliced bread.

The concept of a wheel emerged a long time ago. Archaeologists uncovered evidence that Olmec children in southern Mexico played with toy dogs on wheels 3000 years ago. But their parents never transferred the wheel idea to carts or wagons. How could anyone who understood the concept of the wheel not have used it for transportation?

Here’s why. Ancient Mexicans lacked domestic animals to hitch to a wheeled vehicle. There was no advantage over human porters. A more important question: Was the wheel such a good idea that building a toy dog on wheels should inevitably have transformed a transportation system?

Evolutionary biologists tell us that modern humans have not improved their basic store of physical or intellectual capacities for 100,000 years. So when we migrated out of Africa to people the globe, we did it without the benefit of wheels. And we kept on walking and carrying the “stuff” that George Carlin would later poke fun at on our backs for the next 90,000+ years. We could divide up our stuff into manageable loads that were light and compact enough to carry. Finally, some 10,000 years later, we started loading some of our stuff onto the backs of animals.

This solution satisfied the transportation needs of most of the world down to the invention of the internal combustion engine, even though by that time some peoples had been using wheeled vehicles for over 5000 years. But carts and wagons weren’t all that common. So long as roads were seas of mud in rainy weather people thought twice about whether to entrust their stuff to a wheeled vehicle.

Wheeled transport is not an obviously good idea. People who insist that it was truly revolutionary ignore the fact that many societies that became aware of wheeled vehicles over the centuries chose not to use them. It took so many other innovations over a long period of time to make the wheel useful.

You can read the blog post in it’s entirety at Innovation in Practice.

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Reddit AMA With Richard W. Bulliet

The Wheel

The Wheel brings a fresh perspective to an old and extremely important subject. Among other things Richard Bulliet shows how the invention of the wheel and its many applications to transportation occurred over thousands of years and was influenced by socio-cultural and psychological as well as economic and political factors. In doing so, his revisionist history recasts our understanding of an invention that literally changed the world.” — Merritt Roe Smith

We continue today our weekly feature of Richard W. Bulliet’s The Wheel: Inventions and Reinventions with a Reddit AMA (“As Me Anything”) starring the author himself. In a real-time interaction between Professor Bulliet and the enthusiastic history community on Reddit, the author answers questions regarding his new book, his research, and of course the history of the wheel itself. Here’s a few excerpts from the thread:

One of the biggest things I always hear about the Aztecs and the Mayans are about how they did all their work and built their monuments ‘without ever having invented the wheel.’ It seems to me that this must be some sort of like the telephone game. Was it more that they had no need of it due to climate or was it a case where they simply didn’t think to use it for transportation?

Many people including Jared Diamond have argued that the lack of large domestic animals in the Western Hemisphere prevented wheeled vehicles from being invented. But humans can pull carts, and we have pictorial evidence for this in the Old World back to the third millennium BCE.

As for working on large monuments, wheels were never a crucial technology for this. The pyramids in Egypt and Stonehenge were built without wheels. The earliest wagons were not strong enough to carry really heavy stones, nor was the harnessing technology up to the task.

It is commonly argued that wheels evolved from rollers used to move heavy stones. But we don’t have any evidence for this. Skids rather than rollers were used to distribute the stone’s weight over a wide surface. If rollers had become worn enough for their ends to function as wheels, the wheel-like ends would have had to bear all the weight. Thus the advantage of the roller would have been lost. Inclined planes, skids, and large team of human pullers were more useful for monumental building with big stones than either rollers or wheels.

In terms of how we do history on something so seemingly pre-historic, can you outline some of the methodology you use to make assumptions about the earliest “appearances” of the wheel, and the delicate balance between empirical discovery and imaginative speculation/extrapolation?

For many historical questions, material evidence is better than textual evidence; but it is best when you have both. Nevertheless, the earliest wheel evidence is necessarily pre-textual because we have no writing that goes back far enough.

Evidence for the earliest use of the wheel consists of images on ancient artifacts, the artifacts themselves, particularly if their age and origin can be determined with some precision, and archaeological reconstructions of the relevant societies to determine what they might have used wheels for.

Conjecture comes in when you get all your ducks in a row, in terms of images, dates, and artifacts, and then try to make sense of them. The problem with the wheel is that homo sapiens sapiens carried their stuff around without using wheels for over 90,000 years, and then shifted them onto the backs of domestic animals. This means that they knew exactly how to divide their normal loads up so they could be carried. My conjecture here is that the wheel was invented when a new and challenging type of load was confronted. Many people think that challenge came from moving stones for pyramids, but the Egyptians and other pyramid builders didn’t use wheels.

My thought is that copper mining presented the challenge of moving large amounts of very heavy ore through a narrow mine corridor and out to the smelter. In many, perhaps most, early copper mines, the miners slid baskets and trays along the floor. But in the Carpathian Mountains someone thought of putting a basket on wheels.

The physical evidence for this consists of over 100 clay models of smallish four-wheeled cars, some of them clearly designed as drinking mugs. Carbon-14 dating of associated materials makes them the earliest depictions of wheeled vehicles (as opposed to wheeled toys). I believe that these models played an iconic role in rituals of some sort that celebrated the contribution of mining to the local society. That is a conjecture.

Conjectures work best when they line up with other factors and evidence. In this case, the fact that mine cars in Europe, and then America, remained fairly small and hand-pushed down to 1900 is one such factor. Another is the fact that these mine cars continued to use wheels that were fixed to the ends of their axles and thus could not be steered since the wheel-axle-wheel combination turned as a unit.

(more…)

Monday, February 8th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Wheel: Inventions and Reinventions, by Richard W. Bulliet

The Wheel

“An extraordinary account, with novel interpretations that might generate debate among the experts, but also fantastic details that any reader can enjoy. Bulliet examines histories and geographies from across the world, all seen with the eye of the wheel, thereby often rendering the familiar strange.” — Saskia Sassen

This week, our featured book is The Wheel: Inventions and Reinventions, by Richard W. Bulliet. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Short Selling. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, February 12th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Laborers Who Keep Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed — Best Business Writing 2015

Best Business Writing 2015

Recent terrorist incidents have focused attention on the role of social media in recruiting members. In his piece, “The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed,” first published in Wired and now included in The Best Business Writing 2015, Adrian Chen takes a closer look at the process of removing objectionable images from social media sites and the toll it takes on moderators. The following is an excerpt from the article:

The campuses of the tech industry are famous for their lavish cafeterias, cushy shuttles, and on-site laundry services. But on a muggy February afternoon, some of these companies’ most important work is being done 7,000 miles away, on the second floor of a former elementary school at the end of a row of auto mechanics’ stalls in Bacoor, a gritty Filipino town thirteen miles southwest of Manila. When I climb the building’s narrow stairwell, I need to press against the wall to slide by work­ers heading down for a smoke break. Up one flight, a drowsy security guard staffs what passes for a front desk: a wooden table in a dark hallway overflowing with file folders.

Past the guard, in a large room packed with workers manning PCs on long tables, I meet Michael Baybayan, an enthusiastic twenty-one-year-old with a jaunty pouf of reddish-brown hair. If the space does not resemble a typical startup’s offi ce, the image on Baybayan’s screen does not resemble typical startup work: It appears to show a super-close-up photo of a two-pronged dildo wedged in a vagina. I say appears because I can barely begin to make sense of the image, a baseball-card-sized abstraction of flesh and translucent pink plastic, before he disappears it with a casual flick of his mouse.

Baybayan is part of a massive labor force that handles “con­tent moderation”—the removal of offensive material—for U.S. social-networking sites. As social media connects more people more intimately than ever before, companies have been con­fronted with the Grandma Problem: Now that grandparents routinely use services like Facebook to connect with their kids and grandkids, they are potentially exposed to the Internet’s pan­oply of jerks, racists, creeps, criminals, and bullies. They won’t continue to log on if they find their family photos sandwiched between a gruesome Russian highway accident and a hardcore porn video. Social media’s growth into a multi-billion-dollar in­dustry and its lasting mainstream appeal have depended in large part on companies’ ability to police the borders of their user-generated content—to ensure that Grandma never has to see im­ages like the one Baybayan just nuked.

So companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. And there are legions of them—a vast, invis­ible pool of human labor. Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief se­curity officer of MySpace who now runs online-safety consultancy SSP Blue, estimates that the number of content moderators scrub­bing the world’s social media sites, mobile apps, and cloud storage services runs to “well over 100,000”—that is, about twice the total head count of Google and nearly fourteen times that of Facebook.

(more…)

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Introduction to “Terrorism in Cyberspace”

Terrorism in Cyberspace

“Studying terrorist communication online is one critical means of early warning or scanning of the horizon for potential future threats, as well as a method of keeping on top of evolving trends in terrorism.” — Gabriel Weimann

This week our featured book is Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation, by Gabriel Weimann, with a foreword by Bruce Hoffman. Today, we are happy to present Weimann’s Introduction, in which he discusses whether the time has come to end the War on Terror, while also engaging with the problem of what terrorism actually is.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Terrorism in Cyberspace!

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Watch Gabriel Weimann discuss “Terrorism in Cyberspace”

Terrorism in Cyberspace

This week our featured book is Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation, by Gabriel Weimann, with a foreword by Bruce Hoffman. Today, we are happy to present a video interview with Weimann from the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Wilson Center Now, in which Weimann discusses his new book, the current state of cyberterrorism, and what governments can do in response.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Terrorism in Cyberspace!

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

There’s No Such Thing as a Lone Wolf in Cyberspace

Terrorism in Cyberspace

“Most important, however, a careful balance must be established between security and liberty. For fighting terrorism online raises the issue of the price paid in terms of U.S. civil liberties.” — Gabriel Weimann

This week our featured book is Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation, by Gabriel Weimann, with a foreword by Bruce Hoffman. Today, we are happy to present a post by Weimann that originally appeared on the Reuters’ The Great Debate blog: “There’s No Such Thing as a Lone Wolf in Cyberspace.”

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Terrorism in Cyberspace!

There’s No Such Thing as a Lone Wolf in Cyberspace
By Gabriel Weimann

“Lone wolf” terrorism is often cited as the biggest terrorist threat today. The problem with this label is none of the assailants act alone. They all belong to virtual wolf packs.

Law enforcement authorities in Boston, for example, described Usaamah Abdullah Rahim’s scheme to behead random police officers as the plot of a lone wolf. Police also applied the term to other recent terrorist assaults, among them the brutal attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris that left 12 dead and the Boston Marathon bombing. In all these incidents, the assailants used traditional terror tactics, such as targeting civilians, but appeared to be acting independently of any organization.

The “lone wolf” metaphor is based on the image of a wolf alone in the wild. But this is incorrect, as my studies on terrorists reveal. Wolves never hunt alone — in nature or in terrorism.

In fact, wolves are among the most social of carnivores; they live and hunt in packs. Though the whole group is not always seen, their attacks rely on a well-coordinated circling and cornering of the victim. Lone-wolf terrorists are very similar.

They have their pack — but it’s a virtual one. The solo terrorists are often recruited, radicalized, trained and directed by others online. The current wave of lone-wolf attacks has been propelled by websites and online platforms that provide limitless opportunities for individuals to explore and locate their virtual pack. (more…)

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Bruce Hoffman’s Foreword to “Terrorism in Cyberspace”

Terrorism in Cyberspace

Terrorism in Cyberspace represents the next step in its author’s decades-long quest to map, analyze, and understand the evolution of terrorist communications since the advent of the Internet and this new form of mass communication.” — From the foreword by Bruce Hoffman

This week our featured book is Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation, by Gabriel Weimann, with a foreword by Bruce Hoffman. To start the week’s feature off, we’ve excerpted Hoffman’s foreword.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for Terrorism in Cyberspace!

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Book Giveaway! Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation

Terrorism in Cyberspace

Terrorism in Cyberspace represents the next step in its author’s decades-long quest to map, analyze, and understand the evolution of terrorist communications since the advent of the Internet and this new form of mass communication.” — From the foreword by Bruce Hoffman

This week our featured book is Terrorism in Cyberspace: The Next Generation, by Gabriel Weimann, with a foreword by Bruce Hoffman. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Terrorism in Cyberspace. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, August 7th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Mark Taylor on Recovering Place

“Paradoxically, the more pervasive and invasive Google Earth, GPS and customized apps become, the less we know where we are. And when we don’t know where we are, we don’t know who we are.”—Mark Taylor

Recovering Place, Mark C. TaylorThe following post is by Mark C. Taylor, most recently the author of Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill:

Place is disappearing. The accelerating intersection of globalization, virtualization and cellularization is transforming the world and human life at an unprecedented rate. The fascination with speed for speed’s sake is creating a culture of distraction in which thoughtful reflection and contemplation are all but impossible. These developments are driven by new information and networking technologies that have created a form of global capitalism in which, as Karl Marx predicted, “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.” As processes of globalization expand, localization contracts until place virtually disappears in a homogenous space that is subject to constant surveillance and regulation.

While science and technology are literally changing the face of the earth, it is rarely noted that modern and postmodern art prepared the way for this grand transformation. Modernism’s veneration of speed, mobility, abstraction and the new combines with postmodernism’s play with free-floating signs that are backed by nothing other than other signs to prefigure the virtualization of life that occurs when the tensions of temporality vanish in the apparent simultaneity of so-called “real time.” Paradoxically, the more pervasive and invasive Google Earth, GPS and customized apps become, the less we know where we are. And when we don’t know where we are, we don’t know who we are.

While new information, networking and media technologies have undeniable benefits, they also bring losses that should not be overlooked. The guiding thesis of Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill is that globalization, virtualization, and cellularization result in the disappearance of place and the eclipse of what once seemed real. While these processes appear liberating to many people, they are often profoundly destructive of human relationships as well as the natural world. My wager is that by pausing to dwell on and in a particular place we might once again know who we are by rediscovering where we are. This is not an exercise in nostalgia but rather a deliberate attempt to fathom various sedimentations surrounding us that might harbor alternative futures that would allow us to recover ourselves by recovering place. But what is place? Where is place? How does placing occur?

I have been exploring these questions in my teaching and writing for more than four decades. As the processes of dematerialization, virtualization, and globalization have accelerated, I have been drawn once again to the material, the real, and the local. Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill is the third work in a trilogy that includes Refiguring the Spiritual: Beuys, Barney, Turrell, Goldsworthy and Rewiring the Real: In Conversation with William Gaddis, Richard Powers, Mark Danielewski, and Don DeLillo. In these books, I return to what has been left behind but does not disappear to imagine the looming future, which harbors the prospect of either exceptional creativity or unprecedented destruction.

(more…)

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Watson on Jeopardy! And IBM’s Decision to Put Him There

Of course one of the most prominent examples of congitive computing is Watson’s famous victory on Jeopardy!. Below is a video produced by Engadget that documents Watson’s appearance with Ken Jennings, Alex Trebek, et al. And below that is an excerpt from Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing, by John E. Kelly and Steve Hamm. In the excerpt Kelly and Hamm reveal the fascinating story behind the creation of Watson and the decision to put it on Jeopardy!

Excerpt from Smart Machines:

The Watson project got its start in a surprising way. In the fall of 2004, IBM’s head of computing systems soft­ware, Charles Lickel, traveled from his home in Tucson to spend the day with a small team he managed at an IBM facility in Poughkeepsie, New York. At the end of the workday, the team gathered at the nearby Sapore Steak-house for dinner. They were bemused when, at seven p.m. sharp, many of the diners abruptly got up from their tables, rushed into the bar, and clustered excitedly around the TVs. One of Charles’s guys explained that they were watching long-time champion Ken Jennings defend his title on Jeopardy!

Charles hadn’t followed Jeopardy! for years, but the scene made an impression on him. A few months later, research director Paul Horn asked his lieutenants to think up a high-profile project that the lab could take on that would demonstrate IBM’s scientific and technological prowess. The company calls these its “grand challenges.” The previous grand challenge had been a huge success: IBM’s Deep Blue computer had beaten the world’s top chess grand master in a highly publicized match in the mid-1990s. But a lot of time had passed since that victory.

During one of the brainstorming sessions aimed at picking the company’s next grand challenge, Charles suggested building a computer that could compete on Jeopardy! IBM has long used man-versus-machine games to moti­vate scientists, focus research, and engage the public. In the early 1960s, IBM researcher Arthur Samuel, the AI pio­neer, created one of the first computer programs capable of learning when he wrote a checkers-playing program designed to run on the 701, IBM’s first commercial com­puter. Samuel challenged one of the top U.S. checkers champions to a match—and won. IBM researcher Gerry Tesauro in the late 1980s developed a program called TD-Gammon, which used a technique called temporal differ­ence learning to teach itself how to play backgammon. It was competitive in matches with some of the world’s top backgammon players.

(more…)

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Steve Hamm on Smart Machines and the Era of Cognitive Computing

Yesterday we heard from John E. Kelly III in a lengthy conversation about his experience as a researcher at IBM and his take on the history of computing as well as his vision of its future. Today we hear from the co-author of Smart Machines: IBM’s and the Era of Cognitive Computing, Steve Hamm.

In the interview, Hamm considers how congnitive computing represent the third stage in the evolution of computers. He also explains how these new “smart machines” are different than their predecessors and particularly equipped for the age of big data:

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Video: John Kelly Discusses Cognitive Computing and Watson at the Computer History Museum

John Kelly III, co-author of Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing, discusses IBM’s Watson and cognitive computing as well as other topics ranging from his background and the path that led him to IBM and the history of research there to the newest lab in Nairobi, Kenya.

The discussion was part of an event at the Computer History Museum:

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Interview with Steve Hamm, coauthor of Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing

Smart Machines, Steve Hamm and John KellIn the following interview, Steve Hamm coauthor of Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing, discusses cognitive computing and how it is changing the work and research being done at IBM and elsewhere:

Q: What is the era of cognitive computing?

Steve Hamm: John Kelly and other leaders at IBM believe that we’re on the cusp of a new era in computing. Scientists at IBM and elsewhere are creating machines that sense, learn, reason and interact with people in new ways. These machines will help people overcome our mental biases and penetrate complexity so we can make better decisions.

You can think of a cognitive system as a truly intelligent assistant that helps individuals live and work more successfully, and that helps organizations become more efficient and effective. The implications are huge for individuals, businesses and society as a whole. With these technologies, we will be able to make the world work better and more sustainably.

Q: Is IBM Watson a cognitive computer?

SH: Scientists in IBM Research see Watson as a transitional technology. Using machine learning, natural language processing and statistical techniques, they were able to achieve an amazing feat: to beat two past grand-champions at the TV quiz show Jeopardy! Watson represents a major first step toward the era of cognitive systems—and, in fact, the Watson technology of today is much improved over the technology that was showcased on Jeopardy!

However, scientists at IBM and elsewhere are working on advances in a wide range of technology fields, including learning systems, information management, and hardware systems design, which will ultimately produce computers that are very different from today’s machines. They will operate more like the human brain works, though they will be by no means a replacement for human intelligence. They’ll be extremely powerful yet also extremely power efficient.

(more…)

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing”

Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing

“We are at the dawn of a major shift in the evolution of technology,” write John E. Kelly III and Steve Hamm in their new book Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing,

The victory of IBM’s Watson on Jeopardy! revealed how scientists and engineers at IBM and elsewhere are pushing the boundaries of science and technology to create machines that sense, learn, reason, and interact with people in new ways to provide insight and advice. These changes are explored in Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing, which we be featuring throughout the week on our blog, twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Smart Machines to a lucky winner.

To enter our Book Giveaway, simply e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select one winner on Friday, October 25 at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Santiago Zabala – Out of Network: The Art of Filippo Minelli

“Minelli, by traveling to the slums of Cambodia and painting “Second Life” on its walls, is indicating the contradiction between these two worlds (advanced technological capitalism and its social detritus) — and it is also disclosing the limits imposed by these social networks. These networks, and the Internet in general, are the culmination of Being’s (human existence) replacement with beings (objects) — with the global technological organization of the world.” — Santiago Zabala

Hermeneutic CommunismThe Stone, the philosophy blog of the New York Times, recently ran a post by Santiago Zabala on the art of Italian artist Filippo Minelli. In his post, Zabala, Icrea research professor of philosophy at the University of Barcelona and coauthor of Hermeneutic Communism, intersperses powerful photos of Minelli’s work with explanations of why Minelli’s message needs to be taken seriously. We’ve excerpted some of the essay below, complete with several of the photos. Read the entire article here.

(more…)

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Claude Piantadosi: The Case for Mars

This week’s Book of the Week was Claude Piantadosi’s Mankind Beyond Earth. We gave you the opportunity to win a FREE copy of the book (you can still enter our Giveaway!), brought you an author Q&A and an interesting tidbit post on why 21st century manned space exploration matters, and even shared some of our favorite retro space exploration art on Pinterest. As a fitting conclusion to our feature, we bring you Claude Piantadosi’s perspective on humanity’s next step (or giant leap) into space exploration: sending people to Mars.

(To view in full screen, click on icon in bottom right-hand corner.)

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Why Mankind Beyond Earth makes for Better Life on Earth: A little thing called “Spinoff”

Civilization is obliged to become spacefaring, not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable… staying alive.
– Carl Sagan

While Claude Piantadosi’s Mankind Beyond Earth exudes an obvious “romantic zeal” for space exploration, it is telling that the author chose the above quote as his epigraph. Like Sagan, Piantadosi has a talent for keeping his feet on the ground while he looks to the stars, and that includes a strong defense of exploratory science as a prolific source of what he calls “spinoff.” The steep learning curve associated with space exploration has indirectly led to vast improvements in many practical earth-side technologies, including:

• Air and Water Purification
• Aviation Efficiency and Safety
• Satellite Communication
• Small Size and High Resolution of Infrared Cameras
• Food Preservation Methods (for Soldiers and Refugees)
• Telemedicine
• Hazardous Gas Detectors
• Prosthetic Limbs
• Tools for Measuring Climate Change

We hope this tidbit will come in handy the next time you find yourself faced with a pragmatist who just can’t see the value in mankind’s stepping out into the cosmos. For more details, check out the book!

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Imagining Mankind Beyond Earth (on Pinterest!)

Claude Piantadosi’s Mankind Beyond Earth frames space exploration as humanity’s ultimate challenge to adapt to new and extremely hostile environments. However, while Piantadosi is quite frank about the physical and financial limits of human spacefaring, his book is also brimming with examples of its potential for human creativity. Inspired by this enthusiasm (and the book’s retro cover art) we’ve put together a Pinterest Board (see below) featuring some of our favorite illustrative imaginings about travel to the stars.


Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

An Interview with Claude Piantadosi, Author of Mankind Beyond Earth

“As a lifelong investigator, I have a deep belief that maintaining our research leadership in all facets of science is critical to our nation’s continued success as a forward-thinking civilization. Despite its great costs and high risks, space exploration is still a wholly worthwhile investment for America.”—Claude Piantadosi

Our featured book this week is Mankind Beyond Earth by Claude Piantadosi (remember to enter our Book Giveaway for the chance to win a FREE copy!)

In the following interview, Piantadosi outlines his book and makes a compelling case for manned space exploration in the twenty-first century.

Q: How does your book approach human space exploration?

Claude A. Piantadosi: Mankind Beyond Earth uses space exploration as a model to help guide the reader to a deeper understanding of why we explore and how important exploration is to our species. Space exploration, like past explorations of the oceans and the continents, is ultimately about people and about our ability to adapt. Space is in many ways our most challenging frontier, because the resources we have to advance space exploration are very limited, and they must be put to good use both to develop new technologies and to explore such a uniquely hostile environment. This requires deep scientific knowledge and careful planning, as well as patience, particularly where peoples’ lives are at stake.

Q: Why should we keep sending people into space when robots will do?

CAP: This is one of the most common questions I’m asked by physical scientists, who understand that the cost of a human space mission is at least ten times that of a comparable unmanned mission. The capabilities of robotic probes are increasing dramatically and most of our greatest discoveries in space have come from robotic missions, such as the Mars Rovers. However, the man versus machine tug-of-war creates a false dichotomy. There are roles for both types of missions to space, as my examination of the history of our space program in the book illustrates.

The ability to set the horizons for human and robotic missions in proportion and in tandem is important to our future success in space. A forward-thinking hypothetical is the use of remote mining technology to dig an underground space habitat, say into a hillside or crater rim on Mars. In talking to a couple of professors at the Colorado School of Mines, they think (and I agree) it would be preferable to have the “remote miner” fairly close to the excavation site, perhaps on the moon Deimos or in Mars orbit, instead of 50 million miles away on Earth, where a radio signal takes about four minutes each way and would be accessible to the excavator less than half of the time due to the daily rotations of the two planets on their axes.

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