DO THE COURSE EVAL…IT IS OPEN UNTIL 1159 PM
Interesting video on the science channel. Implants can be hacked and infected with viruses that could potentially cause harm. The video breaks down then process of the implant being hacked and infected. Then it shows how the virus can be transferred to other computer devices causing a serious security problem.
NASA has unveiled a new space suit design that will provide a more flexible fit, so the astronaut can have more freedom to walk and climb while in space. The New design will be tested out soon. Visit the link above and check out the new look
Sickle cell affects a large number of the population, child and adult. A new study has been done recently to see how affective bone marrow transplants are against sickle cell. In this science news article, linked below it discusses the out come of the study. A group of people underwent chemo to wipe out a majority of the sickle cells before the bone marrow transplant. Out of the group 25 of the people were a success and some of them have even been able to stop taking their medication. A chemo and bone marrow transplant regime may be the key
For more information on this topic go to the link below
From the beginning of the twenty-first century, there were a number of looming legal and ethical questions relating to the relatively new field of genetics research. With the Human Genome Project nearing its end, scientists were scrambling to claim discovery of various genes. Because it was such a new area of research and far abstracted from intuitive understanding, many of the important legal issues surrounding genetic research were unresolved. Among them was the issue of whether or not discovered genes were subject to patent. Despite the highly questionable nature of the practice, many companies began successfully filing patents on genes they discovered, speculating that they could make profit off whatever products were derived from the use of that knowledge.
Michael Crichton’s novel Next explores the issue of gene patenting, as well as issues of genetic engineering of humans and transgenic species. Most of his conclusions are pretty clear from reading the novel, but he’s kind enough to spell out his conclusions in the Author’s Note. His most evident claim is that gene patenting is wrong (Crichton, 543-546), but he also concludes that we need to “establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues (Crichton, 546-549);” we must “pass laws to ensure that data about genetic testing is made public (Crichton, 546-549);” we should “avoid bans on research (Crichton, 546-549);” and that rescinding the Bayh-Dole Act is imperative (Crichton, 549-551). Crichton manages to discuss the fringes of science and human experimentation without making claims that “scientists have gone to far,” or “we shouldn’t play god” and instead takes the more nuanced stance that we need to workout the ethical implications of genetic research that will inevitably take place so that we can properly regulate it; this opposed to the ad hoc approach of doing the research and then deciding its acceptability.
The book Next follows a number of characters all following interconnected stories. It begins following a private detective and bounty hunter, Vasco Borden, as he pursues a thief who made off with 12 stolen embryos: setting the scene for a tale of intrigue and corporate espionage (Crichton, 15-17). But after his pursuit goes South, the story turns to Alex and Frank Burnett in court over a legal claim against the University of California (Crichton, 36-38). Alex, Frank’s daughter and attorney, is helping him argue that the University treated him unjustly, leading him to believe he was sick so they could harvest his cells without his consent; the trial is not going well (Crichton 36-44). This is the setup for one of the major plot arcs of the book. Frank loses the case and the University is given the legal rights to harvest his cells to sell to BioGen, a company who patented his cell line. BioGen then takes the stance that it has ownership over Frank’s cell line which includes the cells of his offspring. Biogen seeks to harvest cells from him and then Alex and her son, leading him and Alex to become fugitives from Biogen, hunted by Vasco Borden. This arc is resolved when a higher court rules that BioGen cannot own the Burnett cell line.
This story is then tied in with the story of Rick Diel the CEO of BioGen. Diel is portrayed as a speculator with little concern for ethics; if there is a villain in Next, it is probably Diel. Diel is undergoing a divorce and tries to exploit the possibility his wife has Huntingtons to get custody; she does not want to get tested, yet he argues that if she is going to start experiencing neural degeneration while raising their daughter, that he would surely be more fit a parent. Thus he attempts to force her to undergo genetic testing she does not want, or else give in to his custody demands. His ploy works and his wife escapes him and his attorney — abandoning her custody rights in the process. All the while Diel is dealing with a number of security breaches which ultimately result in the destruction of the Burnett cell line, forcing him to attempt to harvest more cells, leading to the Burnett’s fleeing. Eventually, Diel’s schemes fail and he is forced to resign.
There are a number of other story arcs, all of which are deeply interconnected and revolve around BioGen. Most notably, is the story arc of researcher Henry Kendall, who finds his DNA has been used to create a transgenic ape-boy. Henry saves the ape-boy, whom he names Dave, from being executed to hide the illegal experiment and adopts him as a son. The specifics of how Dave came about discussed in detail as well as the challenges of raising a hybrid ape-boy in a human society. There is also a story arc following a BioGen researcher, Josh, who accidentally infects his brother with a vector that inserts in him the “maturity gene” he’s been researching. It initially seems to cure his brother’s drug addiction, but it leads him to age prematurely and die at 21 of heart failure. Aside from these, there are a number of side stories, all of which relate to modern genetics somehow.
About Michael Crichton
Michael Crichton (1942-2011) was an extremely successful author and screenwriter of science fiction. Today, he is probably best remembered for Jurassic Park, but he also wrote 16 other novels (including The Andromeda Strain, Congo, and The Great Train Robbery), as well as 5 non-fiction books, 11 books under a pseudonym, 2 original screenplays, and produced the hit TV show ER (crichton-official.com). In addition, he made many of his books into movies and helped make his novel The Andromeda Strain into a televisions series (crichton-official.com).
Part of Crichton’s success can surely be attributed to his deep understanding of science. Michael Crichton received his M.D. from Harvard where he graduated Suma Cum Laude (crichton-official.com). He then went on to study Biological Studies as a postdoctoral student at the Salk Institute (crichton-official.com). Crichton subsequently taught a number of college courses (crichton-official.com). As a scientist himself, Crichton understood that scientists were, like everyone else, capable of both good and evil. His books tended to take a nuanced view of scientists; they did not fall into the common trap of claiming that science had “gone to far,” but they also did not idolize science as the key to a utopian world. Instead, Crichton created a sense of wonder and awe in his work: showing how science could be exploited with horrible effects, but also explaining its many benefits to mankind. And the scientists in his stories were not all paragons or villains, but represented a vast array of archetypes and personalities.
The Human Genome Project and Genetic Engineering
The novel Next is centered around modern genetics research. The book was published in 2006 — just 3 years after the completion of the Human Genome Project — which serves as the cornerstone for that research. The Human Genome project began in 1990 and was ongoing till April 2003, when it was completed “ahead of schedule” and “under budget (nih.gov).” The goal of the project was to map the human genome so as to increase our general understanding of human DNA and help us to “understand the genetic factors in human disease (nih.gov).” This was done through the use of gene sequencing technology developed in the 1970s (nih.gov). As of 2013, the NIH reports that it has “fueled the discover of over 1800 disease genes (nih.gov).” The project has dramatically reduced the amount of time required to find disease genes — from several years to several days (nih.gov).
Specifically though, Next focuses on the issue of gene patenting that became common practice in wake of the project. In the book, the company BioGen claims the right to a man’s cells because they control the legal rights to parts of his DNA. While this seems absurd, it is an unfortunate legal ambiguity that arises as a result of allowing companies to patent scientific fact. As of 2013, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics that naturally occurring genes were not subject to patent (ScotusBlog). Prior to this, the practice of patenting naturally occurring genes had run rampant. According to National Geographic in 2005, just one year prior to the release of Next, one fifth of the human genome had been patented (nationalgeographic.com). As a result, genetic research became very difficult, since in order to study a particular gene, or develop any product using knowledge of a particular gene, scientists had to negotiate the right to do so with the patent holder of that gene. The purpose of the patent is to provide companies with incentive to do research, but gene patenting very clearly got in the way of that research.
Another area of difficulty for genetic patents is in the creation of genetically modified foods. Clearly a batch of seed genetically engineered to increase crop yield and resist disease is a product of specifically created human processes and is thus subject to patent. The problem is plants reproduce, and Monsanto, a major provider of genetically modified crops, is claiming farmers do not have the right to save the seed from the crops they plant from seed they buy from Monsanto (monsanto.com). They consider saving the seed to replant it to be producing their patented product (monsanto.com). While the courts have sided with Monsanto so far, the ruling is highly questionable. From a practical standpoint, its highly inefficient and makes little sense to tell farmers they simply have to dispose of valuable seeds, just so they can by the same seeds from Monsanto; it seems almost vindictive. And from a more legally rational standpoint, the ruling doesn’t make sense because the farmers aren’t producing the seed using Monsanto’s patented process; the plants make the seed and the farmers simply have the good sense to use it.
Another field brought up in Next was genetic engineering — specifically, the study and creation of transgenic species. Genetic engineering can refer to any means of trying to manipulate genetic structure; in some sense, breeding plants and animals to produce certain traits is genetic engineering. However, in the book and in the common usage, genetic engineering refers to methods of splicing genes from one organism into another, by cutting and combining separate strands of DNA (“Playing God”). In “Playing God,” the second episode in a five part PBS documentary series, a number of scientists, in particular Herbert Boyer, explain the the nature of genetic engineering, its founding, and its evolution as a science. According to the documentary, Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen discovered a process for recombining DNA (“Playing God”). The basic idea is that they “cleave” the DNA, cutting off a piece using certain enzymes, and then insert cleaved DNA from another organism in its place (“Playing God”). Boyer later used this process to attach human insulin producing cells to bacteria — thus creating a method to efficiently mass produce insulin to treat diabetics (“Playing God”). Many other drugs are synthesised using similar processes (“Playing God”). The documentary also talked about use of genetic engineering in food production to cut back on disease, and increase yield (“Playing God”).
Next explored the idea of having genes linked to human intelligence and brain development spliced into animals. Dave, an ape with near human intelligence, is such a creature in the story. Dave is not treated as an abomination by the story, but his existence raises a number of troubling questions. His “parents” enroll him in school, and while he functions well enough on a basic level, he has serious attention deficit problems and still exhibits ape like behavior, particularly when under stress. Towards the end of the story, he even responds to attacks on him by biting and throwing feces. The problem Dave creates is that he blurs the line between human and animal and thus makes it very difficult for us to identify his niche. He thinks, speaks, and is within the range of intelligence of other children his age, but he still isn’t quite human. Our society isn’t designed to meet his needs, yet it would be improper to treat him as a non-person. The book never makes judgement about whether or not transgenic species like Dave should exist, it merely raises some questions to consider about what that would mean for us and them. In many ways the book also seems to conclude that its an inevitability that they eventually will.
Genetic engineering is a fascinating and promising field, but its potential to blur the line between man and animal raises a number of ethical concerns. Next explores many of the issues surrounding the controversies of genetic engineering from last decade, many of which are still unresolved. It is encouraging that the Supreme Court ruled natural genes were scientific fact not subject to patent, but there are still many legal issues to be resolved surrounding genetic patents, because reproduction makes things tricky. And as for transgenics, those issues are still in the air as well. We already create transgenic species using human genes, though we have yet to create something that’s clearly a person, but not quite human. Crichton claims though, that it will come. Hopefully, we can answer the tough questions before it does; ad hoc is seldom a good approach to ethics.
“About Michael Crichton.” Constant Contact Productions.
http://www.crichton-official.com/aboutmichaelcrichton-biography.html. Web. July 3.
“Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc.” SCOTUSblog. http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/association-for-molecular-pathology-v-myriad-genetics-inc/. 2014. Web. July 3. 2014.
Crichton, Michael. Next. Harper Colins. 2006. e-Book. 2006.
Massarella, Carlo. “Playing God.” DNA. PBS. Video. 2003. (link to video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3wg-W3Slow).
“Human Genome Project.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=45&key=H#H. March 29. 2013. Web. July 3. 2014.
“One-Fifth of Human Genes Have Been Patented, Study Reveals.” National Geographic News. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/10/1013_051013_gene_patent.html.
Oct 13. 2005. Web. July 3. 2014.
“Why Does Monsanto Sue Farmers Who Save Seeds.” Monsanto.
e-seeds.aspx. Web. July 3. 2014.
A Space Odyssey Series
Science fiction is unique in its ability to tell stories. While most other forms of fantasy and fiction allow for the discussion of human nature, philosophy and politics, only science fiction allows for the discussion of the interplay between them and science. A lot of modern science fiction coming out today is horrible, focusing on giant bugs or attack from obscure aliens with no clear motive or discussion of the technology being employed. In these stories, the aliens are no better than having a story based on elves or ghosts. Arthur C. Clarke, being aware of this, went out to create the “good science fiction movie” (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ). From this he set out to write 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 was not a lone book though. Inspired by birth of the space age, Arthur C. Clarke went on to write 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three and finally 3001: The Final Odyssey. The focus of these books is on actually telling a story through the use of real science and what technologies might plausibly arise in the fifty years between when the book was written and the time the book was set in. It is the goal of this essay to show that, while the technology of 2001: A Space Odyssey may seem outlandish by even today’s standards, it is far from impossible.
In order to understand the novels, you much first understand the life of the author. Arthur C. Clarke was born on December 16, 1917 in England. “Following service as a radar instructor and technician with the Royal Air Force in the Second World War, he honed his scientific acumen working as an editor for the academic journal Physics Abstracts, while earning a first-class degree in mathematics and physics at King’s College London” (Benford). With this highly technical background he had no problem understanding the scientific papers coming out around that time period. His expertise was so refined that “in 1945, he proposed the use of satellites in geostationary orbits as communications relays. Clarke never patented the idea, but promoted it ceaselessly” (Benford). Geostationary orbits have revolutionized modern communications and allowed for faster growth through the interconnected financial institutions of the world. Clarke died on March 19 2008.
In 1968, Clarke wrote the first book in the series 2001: A Space Odyssey. The book was a major success and with NASA further exploring the solar system during the next 14 years, other books had to follow. 2001: A Space Odyssey starts off with the evolution of man. A group of man-apes are existing in a cave but only just barley. Suddenly, a black monolith falls from the sky and over time teaches the man-apes hunting and tool use. It isn’t much but it’s enough to trigger an evolutionary response leading to Homo sapiens. The book then transitions to 2001 when a magnetic anomaly is found in the Tyco crater (TMA 1). Upon TMA 1 being unearthed a signal is sent to the planet Saturn. For clarification, in the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey the plan was to make a trip to Saturn, however in the movie that changed the location to Jupiter because they did not feel they had the budget to do Saturn justice. All the other books in the series revolve around the plot of the movie. The bulk of the book involves the crew of the Discovery One flying to Saturn to try and determine what the signal was about. The two crew members, David Bowman and Frank Poole, were sent as an exploration team but with no knowledge of the alien aspect of the mission. The time span for this trip would have been hard for humans during an extended stay in a zero gravity environment. Because of they the characters were kept in a spinning dome capable of simulating moon gravity. The onboard computer, Hal 9000, was told to keep this information from them, which contradicted its ethical programing. This dilemma would be acceptable for a person but not for a purely logical machine. As such, Hal was driven insane and killed off the all of the crew but David. Once Hal was shot down, David continued the trip and, when met with another alien monolith (TMA 2), was uploaded as a “Star Child”.
In 2010: Odyssey Two another mission was sent to Jupiter. The Americans and Russians were both in a race to reach the ruins of Discovery One but its orbit was found to be decaying so Russia and the United States decided to team up in order to reach it in time. During the mission, China launched a bigger rocket in secret that was able to outpace Discover Two and make it to Jupiter a few weeks early. They landed on Europa, where they planed to use the water ice there as rocket fuel for the return trip. During that process, the Chinese ship was attacked by a large alien life form, confirming that life exists elsewhere in the solar system. Druing this time, the entity once known as David Bowman examines the planets in the solar system to see which ones harbor life. Once it is found that Europa is capable of harboring intelligent life but it unable to do so due to being completely frozen over, the decision is make to implode Jupiter and turn it into a second sun. The crew of the Discovery Two just made it out with their lives. At the very end of the book a message is sent to the people of Earth from TMA 2 which only states “All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there” (Clarke, 2010: Odyssey Two).
In 2061: Odyssey Three, Heywood Floyd was taking a vacation on a new ship with a built in ion drive. The drive was fast enough that it can take the trip from Earth to any planet in the solar system within a matter of weeks. While on the vacation another ship crashed on Europa and became the first people to visit since we were warned away. Floyd’s ship was the only one with the power to get there and rescue them. In 3001: The Final Odyssey, the body of Frank Poole was found frozen in space and, with the extreme cold and dry conditions, was still preserved enough that the more advanced people in 3001 were able to bring him back to life. The story of a future is told from his perspective. At the end of the book, what use to be David Bowman showed back up with a message. The aliens that built the monolith saw what we were like in the 20th century and and decided that we were a danger. Bowman thought we were worth saving and planted a logic bomb into the monolith, keeping it from doing any harm.
It’s a great story but what really drives it is how the development of technology is presented in the book. The first, and by far most recognizable, piece of technology is by far their artificial gravity. In most science fiction, artificial gravity is just something that works and is assumed to be done by technology that is just above and beyond anything we currently understand. Arthur C. Clark goes the next step however in actually providing a mechanism by which gravity can be simulated. He was by no means the first to propose such an idea but he is the most famous as it was presented in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which came out at roughly the same time.
The idea can be simplified into something as simple as a yoyo. If you take the yoyo in one hand and begin to spin it in a circle off to the side you will be able to see the same physics at play. The yoyo is being tossed off to the side tangent to the circle. What is keeping it from being tossed away is the string, which is providing an inward acceleration given by (Tipler and Mosca)
This just provides the magnitude of the acceleration but it is always pointing towards the center of the rotation. This acceleration can be anything though depending on how fast you spin the object or how big of a circle you decided to spin the object in. Fortunately, the book provides a lot of information of the ship itself. While the whole ship doesn’t spin the dome in the front does. It was built with a diameter of 16.7m (54.8 ft) which translates to a radius of 8.35m (27.4 ft). (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ) At the same time, the gravity was kept at moon level because the moon seemed to be a good balance between the Earth’s gravity and the lack of gravity that would be presented in the rest of the ship (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ). The moon has a constant gravitational acceleration of a=1.62 m/s^2 . From here we can rewrite the equation above to solve for the velocity at which discovery had to be spinning:
This means that the speed at which the dome had to of been spinning at is v=3.6 m/s (8 mph). This speed is not very fast at all and should be within the realm that could be realistically done if we ever decide to build a ship of this nature.
Artificial intelligence is one of the other most recognizable aspects of the story as well. The 2001: A Space Odyssey was famous for its depictions of the Hal 9000. During the trip to Saturn, only two people were left conscious. David worked one shift while Frank took the other. The shifts were 12 hours long so one would be coming on while the other was finishing his shift. Because most of their time was spent alone millions of miles away from civilization there was a concern over them being driven crazy by the isolation. As such Hal was put on not just as an on board computer but also as a second team member (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ). This raises the question, however. Was Hal just a program that could simulate a human persona or was Hal a conscious being in his own right?
This question is not in itself new. In 1950, just 18 years before the book was written, Alan Turing was asking this very question. In his paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence he proposed a test that could be used to determine if a machine was demonstrating true consciousness or if it was just acting out a program that was able to mimic a living being. What Turing proposed was to present a computer and a person to a judge. The participants would be shielded behind a curtain to keep the judges from being able to know which participant was which. The judge would then have a conversation with both the person and the computer. If the judge was unable to tell the difference between the two participants, then it would be said that the computer must hold some sort of consciousness. The computer would be said to pass the Turing test (Turing).
Surely creating a machine that is capable to passing the Turing test in impossible, right? Or at the very least, it is beyond what modern computer technology can do. This is a comforting thought as it keeps the robotic revolution in the realm of fiction. News came out, however, a few months ago that a computer was able to successfully pass the Turing test. This was a bit of a misnomer.
“I did get a chance to talk to Goostman, before the droves of people wanting to do the same crashed the servers. Despite Oz’s harsh critique (he tends to go a bit overboard), I have to truthfully report that he’s good. Far from perfect, but not bad. Goostman makes all the mistakes the chatbots before him have made: he dodges questions, he changes the subject, he makes vague answers, he repeats things back to you in ways that no normal human does in a cute attempt to show that he’s listening, and of course he says really stupid stuff that doesn’t make any sense. Goostman’s creators explain his quirks away by giving him a fictional back story. See, Eugene is a 13-year-old Ukranian kid. He has favorite foods and a pet guinea pig, and he feels okay derailing important interrogations to tell you these things. I would have shot him as a replicant ages ago” (Naro).
What happened was that, of thirty judges, only ten were convinced that what they were talking to was an actual person and not a simulation. This may not be all that impressive, however Turing predicted this bench mark would happen around the year 2000, so it really wasn’t that far off. (Naro) While Hal was a fully functioning AI by the year 2001, this is something we still seem to have issues with. Even if we were able to come up with a computer able to pass the test, the question presented in 2001: A Space Odyssey and again in 2010: Odyssey Two still remains. When Hal was unplugged for the last time he asked a very pointed question, “will I dream Dave?” (Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey ) This is not a question a computer would normally ask nor would it really be something that a programmer would introduce during a shutdown process. The idea of dreaming is something unique to conscious beings and was the final hint that Hal was more then just a jumble of one’s and zero’s. Todays’ computers are nowhere near that advanced even though we are thirteen years beyond the era the book was trying to portray. This should not be taken as an argument against a true AI however. The idea of a computer passing the Turing test is still quite possible and in a few decades, may be considered commonplace.
AI’s are considered to the among the pinnacles of technology, however, even they would have a hard time transversing interstellar space on anything other then a radio transmission. As such, in 2061 Odyssey Three, a new form of engine was introduced. When we think of most rockets, we picture either the space shuttle or one of the old rockets used in the Apollo program. Both of these systems used chemical fuel even once they made it into orbit around the Earth. A problem with this is that fuel is heavy, which requires more fuel to get it into orbit, which requires more fuel and so on.
Ion drives propose a solution for navigation once you get up into space. “Inert-gas ion thruster technology offers the greatest potential for providing high-specific-impulse, low-thrust, electric propulsion on large, earth-orbital spacecraft” (Poeshel). They work by propelling a very low density gas out of a thruster electronically. They are able to get the gas to extremely high velocities. The result is that each atom is able to provide a tremendous amount of thrust; however, since it is kept at a low density, the overall thrust is kept low. They also solve the propellant problem of chemical based rockets. Since they use electricity to ionize their propellant they don’t need to drag along quite as much fuel. They don’t have the thrust to escape Earth but are ideal for orbit corrections or bringing a probe up to a high velocity over a long period of time.
These are fine for probes and satellites however not so great for human travel to the outer planets. NASA states that the early ion drives “can be operated on xenon or argon propellant to produce 0.2 N of thrust at a specific impulse of 3000 sec with xenon propellant and at 6000 sec with argon propellant” (Poeshel). However in 1987 Arthur C. Clarke decided he needed to go faster. His ion drive was nothing special in and of itself. No technical specifications were ever given or any real mention of why it was better than all the others. What did make it special was its use of cold fusion. This may be comical by today’s standards since cold fusion is right up there with the philosopher’s stone however, at the time of publication, news of cold fusion was brand new.
Since cold fusion has been found to be impossible since the publication of the book, it is unlikely that any technology will ever be found that can emulate this rocket design in real life. Luck, as it would have it, is on the side of modern innovation. A company called Ad Astra Rocket Company has recently come out with a new rocket propulsion technology called the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR). “In a VASIMR® engine, gas such as argon, xenon, or hydrogen is injected into a tube surrounded by a magnet and a series of two radio wave (RF) couplers. The couplers turn cold gas into superheated plasma and the rocket’s magnetic nozzle converts the plasma thermal motion into a directed jet” (Astra). The engine works in two stages; it becomes ionized by the RF waves and becomes “cold plasma”. Cold plasma is a bit of a misnomer however. The plasma in this stage is still roughly the same temperature as the surface of the sun. This plasma is then sent to the “Ion Cyclotron Heating (ICH) section” (Astra). Here it is heated to roughly the same temperature as the core of the sun. Once the plasma is super-heated, it is expelled the way any regular propellant would be. “The rocket uses a magnetic nozzle to convert the ions orbital motion into useful linear momentum resulting in ion speeds on the order of 180,000 km/hr (112,000 mph)” (Astra).
The VASIMR engine has several advantages over traditional ion style engines. It can more easily vary its thrust, allowing it to be used more a wider range of missions without having to be drastically redesigned. Also, since the plasma is excited with RF waves, no engine parts have to come into direct contact with the hot plasma. As such the engine does not wear out as easily and can last longer. Another advantage to this technology is that it can easily be scaled up for larger payloads. This may be able to move past putting satellites into orbit and allow for us to more easily capture nearby asteroids or even possibly sending men to Mars as suggested in the book. The limit to all of this is power. While to book relied on cold fusion for its power supply something more will be needed for large scale projects. Solar power will still be useful for near Earth missions however for anything bigger something more akin to a mini nuclear reactor would be desired. (Astra)
Arthur C. Clarke was a revolutionary. Unlike a majority of modern science fiction writers he did not just use science as a convent plot device or as a useful tool for social commentary. He inspired a future generation to innovate for a better tomorrow. He envisioned a world capable of travel to the outer planets, using sentient computers and artificial gravity inhabited by man as well as aliens. Later, he introduced the idea of life on Europa and how aliens may intervene in their evolution in the same manner they did in ours. Later on, he used advances in propulsion technology to shrink the size of the solar system in much the same way the steam boat and telegraph did to ours. Finally, in 3001, he brings up the idea that as technology increases and we are able to spread out into the cosmos we will finally be able to get beyond our let go our selfish desire for war and live in a utopia. Arthur C. Clark was very much an optimist, but his vision of the future is not entirely impossible.
Astra. Astra -VASMIR. n.d. Web. 30 June 2014.
Benford, Gregory. “Obituary: Arthur C. Clarke (1917–2008).” Nature (2008).
Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey . Penguin Group, 1968.
—. 2010: Odyssey Two. Random House Publishing Group, 1982.
—. 2061 Odysse Three. Random House Publishing Group, 1987.
—. 3001: The Final Odyssey. Del Rey, 1997.
Naro, Maki. Popular Science. 11 June 2014. Web. 30 June 2014.
Poeshel. “Development of Advanced Inert-Gas Ion Thrusters.” 1983.
Tipler, Paul and Gene Mosca. Physics for Scientist and Engineers. MPS, 2003.
Turing, Alan. “Computing Machinery and Intelligence.” Mind (1950).
I chose to read Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! because I find its dystopian view of population growth and the impact of human activities on the world rather interesting, and indeed somewhat depressing. I think the book is relevent to this class because we’ve been talking about Malthusianism and about global warming and environmental harm, and this book shows one possible outcome if we aren’t careful about how we live our lives on this planet. It also details the society born from a dense, resource-deprived population, which isn’t really an example of Social Darwinism, but perhaps a look into psychology, which we’ve only briefly touched on.
About the Author:
Harry Harrison was born on March 12th, 1925, in the town of Stamford, Connecticut. He eventually made his way to New York City, specifically Queens, where he grew up.(1) After getting out of high school, he was drafted into the military where he “worked on secret military computers, as an armourer and gunnery instructor, and finally – promoted to sergeant – became a Military Policeman”.(2) His service left him with a hatred for the military and war.
In one interview, Harrison said he was inspired to write the book from reading a number of scientific journals, and doing a bit of research on his own about population growth and resources.(3) In another, he says this: “The idea came from an Indian I met after the war, in 1946. He told me, ‘Overpopulation is the big problem coming up in the world’ (nobody had ever heard of it in those days) and he said ‘Want to make a lot of money, Harry? You have to import rubber contraceptives to India.’”(4) The setting of the book is in 1999 because it was still fairly close to the time in which he wrote the book, enough so that it was believable. One of the characters in the book, Soloman Kahn, had a birthdate and military life similar to Harrison’s, but the character was not meant to be a reflection of him.
The book takes place in a dystopian future in New York City, year 1999. In this future, the world population has skyrocketed, resources are scarce, and the world is heavily polluted and hot, with little water to go around.
The story starts off from the viewpoint of a police investigator, Andy Rusch. It chronicles his day beating back the crowd in the streets, and breaking up a stampede on a store that had a sale on “soylent steaks”, which are rare and highly sought after among the poor. Once that is broken up we got to the point-of-view of a kid named Billy Chung, who managed to make off with a box of soylent steaks in the confusion. After he finds a place to hide and eats his share of them, he decides to sell the rest so that he can pay his way into a job delivering telegrams.
It is during Billy’s first delivery that we meet another couple of important characters in the story, Michael O’Brien, and his girlfriend, Shirl Greene. These two live among the rich in a closed-off community, and it is when Billy goes in and notices much of the security is disabled that he gets the idea to rob the place.
The robbery goes wrong when Mr. O’Brien walks in on Billy searching through a jewelry box, and attacks. Billy fights back by striking O’Brien across the head with the tire iron he used to break in, and the blow ends up killing O’Brien. It is O’Brien’s death that sets the stage for the rest of the book.
Andy gets stuck with the task of investigating O’Brien’s death, and during the investigation, he developes a relationship with O’Brien’s “girlfriend” (really, something similar to a concubine, the prettier women were bought and sold like furniture), Shirl Greene. Since Greene has no place to go and has a contract permitting her to continue living in O’Brien’s suite until the contract ends, the two end up living together in opulence for a month.
After the month is up, Shirl moves in with Andy and his roommate, Soloman Kahn, much to Shirl’s dismay since she had gotten used to a life of luxury. Andy remains obsessed with solving the murder case and hunting down Billy Chung, while his roommate Soloman becomes involved in protests against the overturning of a bill to implement population control by limiting birth rates. Soloman eventually grows sick from the stress and dies, and after he does, an entire family moves in to replace him, which gets on both Shirl and Andy’s nerves, and Shirl leaves and goes back into her life as a concubine. Andy eventually hunts Billy down and accidentally kills him, causing him to get demoted, and the book ends with the US population hitting a record high 344 million citizens at the century’s end.(5)
Comparison with Movie:
Make Room! Make Room! was adapted into the movie Soylent Green, which came out in 1973. The movie parallels the book pretty closely, just with different names for the characters, the murder victim being changed from a malicious businessman in the book to a kind soul in the movie, and a twist ending in the movie. Whereas the book has a rather unexciting ending, the movie leads on to the investigator doing some research about the victim’s past associations, finds he was associated with the company that makes Soylent products, and goes to investigate the company. He finds out a rather gruesome fact: Human corpses are used to make their Soylent Green product, and the movie just ends with him screaming “Soylent Green is people!” while being carried off.
Science behind the book and why it’s relevent:
While it is obvious at this point that the future chronicled in the book hasn’t come to pass and probably won’t for quite some time if it ever does happen, there are some things documented in the book that either are currently happening, or have some basis in scientific research and Malthusianism stating how those things could happen.
I’ll first talk about something we aren’t really seeing, and that is this idea that the population explodes to the point of their not being enough room and nowhere near enough resources for everyone. We have discussed a few times in class the concept of Malthusianism, a concept first proposed by Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, which basically states that population growth is exponential, whereas the availability of resources is arithmetical, meaning that at some point population growth exceeds the availability of resources and the population begins to die off until it reaches sustainable levels again.
While it is certainly true that the population is growing at an exponential rate, that rate has steadily been decreasing in recent years, as we can clearly see in our handy graph from the US Census Bureau:
The book also mentions the idea of trying to limit population growth through government policy, which I think is again linked back to Malthusianism, in that it is assumed that reducing the population will restore the balance of resources to population size so there are enough to go around. It just so happens this is exactly what China has been doing in the real world for quite some time with its one-child policy, since China too struggles to get enough resources to feed its population. Since this policy has been enforced since around 1980, we can already see some of its effects: Because of chinese cultural preference for males, there is now a higher percentage of males in china than in the rest of the world; the ratio of males to females was at 1.17 as of 2001, compared to a ratio of 1.03 to 1.07 for the rest of the industrialized world. A particularly concerning consequence however, is that the average age of chinese citizens is going up since they aren’t having enough children to replace themselves, and this ever-increasing group of older citizens needs the smaller group of younger citizens to support it, which places a huge burden on the young.(6) China still has problems with food supply and, particularly, water supply despite the policy.(7)
I’d also like to discuss the psychological effect living in a huge population can have, although I don’t think it really pertains to anything we’ve discussed in class, except perhaps to a very small extent, Social Darwinism. In the book, we see the population riddled with crime, with a low value on human life, and with heavy segregation of the rich from the poor (they literally walled themselves in). A long time ago, I found an interesting video describing a study done by Dr. John B. Calhoun on a population of mice. They were placed in a “utopian” environment, where they had no natural predators, and unlimited access to food and water, and were just allowed to grow in population size boundlessly.
In the beginning, everything goes as expected in the experiment: the mice define their territorial boundaries and begin to reproduce at an exponential rate. However, after a while, the crowded mice began to fight constantly, and population began to level off, and different classes of mice began to develop. There were certain mice who always got into fights, who had chewed-up tails and tended not to live very long. There were mice that were always picked on. Then there were “the beautiful ones”, which were physically perfect, but had withdrawn from society and spent their time eating and grooming rather than breeding and interacting with other mice. Eventually, the society becomes completely dysfunctional, and the population plummets until eventually dies off completely.
Calhoun suggests that this is an example of what will eventually happen to human society if we keep on breeding without bound, in fact, we could already be in the middle of it, with our declining population growth.(8)000
The book doesn’t explicitly single out the topic of global warming, but it is sort of implied that it has happened in the book’s fictional world. In the book, we see extremely high temperatures, even in August, which would seem to suggest some sort of global warming has taken place. This is one of the things from the book that we can actually see happening in real life, albeit not (yet) to the extent described in the book. Before the book was written, even, we already had the dust bowl, where we outstripped our land’s resources and suffered from it.
We learned in class that the possibility of global warming due to our CO2 emissions has been known about since 1896 when Svante Arrhenius first realized it, and it is likely that Harrison was familiar with the idea as well, especially considering that the President Lyndon Johnson had spoken about the issue the year before the book was first published. Also, by the late 80’s at least, we knew that climate change is taking place, and by now we have quite a bit of data on it, so 1999 was a pretty reasonable date for the book’s setting in that regard.(9)
I think that, although the book was way off on its description of world population and climate from the actuality of the world in 1999, it still hits close to home on a couple of points. It accurately assessed that the world would heat up, the violence and mob mentality in the book is reflected to some extent in experiments on animal populations, and the measure of population control has already been implemented in China at least, even though the world’s population is on the decline and it really doesn’t seem to be necessary at this point. I think, if we were to go along the road to limitless population growth and limitless consumption, the story could very well become a reality.
- Tomlinson, Paul. “Harry Harrison – A Brief Biography,” 2009. http://www.michaelowencarroll.com/hh/bio.htm.
- ———. “Who Is Harry Harrison?,” July 1999. http://www.michaelowencarroll.com/hh/aboutwho.htm.
- Harry Harrison Interview. Interview by Paul Tomlinson, 1985. http://www.michaelowencarroll.com/hh/n07.htm.
- “Harry Harrison: When the World Was Young.” Locus Magazine, March 2006. http://www.locusmag.com/2006/Issues/03Harrison.html.
- Harrison, Harry. Make Room! Make Room! New York: Orb, 2008.
- Hesketh, Therese, Li Lu, and Zhu Wei Xing. The Effect of China’s One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years. Health Policy Report. The New England Journal of Medicine, September 15, 2005. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMhpr051833.
- Jun, Ma, and Naomi Li. “Tackling China’s Water Crisis Online,” September 21, 2006. https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/392-Tackling-China-s-water-crisis-online.
- Calhoun, John. Population Density and Social Pathology. National Institute of Mental Health, November 1970. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1501789/pdf/califmed00143-0080.pdf.
- “Climate Research Unit: Data,” n.d. http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/data/temperature/.