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Interviews: Freeman Dyson Answers Your Questions

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the listen-up dept.

Science 141

A while ago you had the chance to ask mathematician and theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson about his work in quantum electrodynamics, nuclear propulsion, and his thoughts on the past, present, and future of science. Below you'll find his answers to your questions.Why the United States?
by eldavojohn

Why did you take a fellowship at Cornell and stay in the United States? There's plenty of world renowned institutions in the United Kingdom and you were a pilot in the RAF -- what appealed to you about the United States? Do you have any comments or opinions on H1-Bs and the United States' current stance on immigration?

Dyson: During world war II I made plans to go to Russia after the war. I had fallen in love with the Russian language, and I knew that physics and mathematics in Russia were first-rate. So I planned to stay several years in Russia to study the Russian culture as well as science. Then soon after the war Stalin made it clear that he did not welcome foreign students. So my second choice was the USA. The main reason was that money was available from the Commonwealth Fund (now the Harkness Fund) for student fellowships in the USA. It was then easier to cross the Atlantic than to cross the Channel. I applied for a Commonwealth Fellowship and got generous support for two years in the USA. I went to Cornell because I happened by chance to meet G.I.Taylor who had been at Los Alamos with the British team during the war. He said, ``Go to Cornell, that is where all the bright people from Los Alamos went after the war.'' He was right. At Cornell I worked with Bethe and Feynman who were at the cutting edge of physics at that time.

I was never a pilot in the RAF, only a humble statistician collecting data about operations. The US is always schizophrenic about immigration. In those days the situation was generally worse than today, with strict immigration quotas. I benefited because I was British and we had the biggest quota. Now the situation is still bad but not so unfair as it was then. The quotas were overtly racist and designed to keep America for the WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants).



Education
by flogger

How has your education helped or hindered you? You are the "ideal" educated man. In our (American) culture, we don;t seem to be producing people devoted to learning, discovering, thinking, inventing, etc. What in your opinion can an educational system do to foster what you've become?

Dyson: I was extremely lucky because I came through the British education system during the war when everything was screwed up. The whole system depended on written examinations and we did not have enough ships to import paper. So there was no paper and no exams. Also there was a high shortage of teachers since all the young people were away fighting the war. As a result, I was in class only seven hours a week. A wonderful time to get an education. We had maximum freedom, and the kids learned more from one another than we would have learned from teachers.

The kids today spend far too much time in class and as a result are turned off from the things they are supposed to be learning. That is true not only in the USA but also in other countries.



Global warming: genetic engineering and coal death
by doom

In your article The Question of Global Warming, you make the point that the Earth's vegetation acts as a big carbon sink, and suggest that genetically engineered plants might do an even better job -- thus becoming the first person in history to make environmentalists angry by suggesting that top soil management is important. I have a few questions about this: (1) you mention the fanciful-sounding notion of "carbon-eating trees", but aren't there technologies that already exist that might do the job? There are claims that "no till" agriculture via the dreaded "roundup ready" plants reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially. (2) A big part of the argument against immediate reductions in CO2 emissions is economic. Do the analyses you've seen really make an effort to capture all the costs and benefits associated with a move like banning coal burning completely? The annual deaths estimated from coal pollution seem big enough to make it worth doing even before you put global warming on the table.

Dyson: This is a complicated subject and I only discuss it in general terms. What you say about carbon-eating trees is true. Trees eat carbon almost as fast as we can burn it. No-till farming also eats carbon. The question I raised is whether we could eat more carbon by genetically engineering trees.I did not answer the question. We cannot answer it until the science of tree genetics is much better understood. The same thing is true of the effects of carbon on climate. We cannot predict the effects of carbon on climate until we understand the science of climate much better than we do now.

The shale-gas revolution has changed the economics of energy production drastically. Shale-gas is a greenhouse gas, but it is otherwise clean, doing far less damage than coal to the environment and to human health. Shale-gas is cheap and well distributed over the planet. The replacement of coal by shale-gas is by far the most practical way to get rid of coal and clean up the planet.



What are your views on the current state of fusion
by smaddox

I am of the opinion that without economical fusion, humanity will not last more than a few thousand years. I am also of the opinion that most fusion research funding is targeted at projects with little or no application to economical fusion (I see no evidence that tokamaks or inertial confinement will ever be economical. In fact, all evidence seems to suggest they will never be economical). What are your views on the current state of fusion research? Is funding misplaced? Disproportionately allocated?

Dyson: I am not an expert on plasma physics. I know only that plasma physics is very difficult and poorly understood. In my opinion the governments of the world, not only the USA, made a wrong choice about forty years ago when they stopped exploring the science of fusion with small-scale experiments and put their money into high engineering projects. The big engineering projects such as ITER are absurdly expensive and can never lead to economic fusion power. I agree with your opinions about this. I consider the funding to be misplaced. The only hope of economically useful fusion power is a radically different design which might emerge from better understanding of the basic science of plasma physics.

I do not agree that humanity needs economical fusion power in order to survive, unless you include the sun as a fusion power source. The sun is a splendid fusion reactor that will continue running for several billion years. All we need is to learn how to use sunlight economically. There are probably many ways to achieve this.



Nuclear Freeze Movement
by rotenberry

Professor Dyson,

I had the pleasure of listening to you speak at Caltech in the 1980s about the Nuclear Freeze Movement. You were a supporter even though you indicated that since the number of nuclear weapons was decreasing (at that time), keeping the current number of nuclear weapons was not desirable. Thirty years have passed. Do you think this movement accomplished any of their goals?


Dyson: The biggest reduction of nuclear weapons was done by George Bush Senior in 1989. He removed all tactical nukes from the US army and the surface navy. This was done quietly and unilaterally without any international negotiations. He got rid of about half of all our nuclear weapons, and these were the most dangerous weapons, deployed all over the world and likely to be involved in local fighting. As a result of his action, the world is much safer.

I believe we could go much further in the same direction. Unilateral action is much quicker and more effective than negotiating treaties. The next obvious step would be to get rid of nuclear bombs on airplanes. After that, land-based nuclear missiles, leaving the nuclear missile submarines till last. I think there is a good chance that the military will support such unilateral moves. The military knows that our nuclear weapons are essentially useless for fighting real wars. The problem is to educate the politicians.



Targets for the Space Industry
by manonthemoon

Given that we finally seem to have a vital and growing private space industry, what do you think the likeliest successful target for long term space industrialization/exploitation/habitation is? The Moon, near earth asteroids, Mars?

Dyson: I think it is absurd and illusory to guess what kind of space activities will be profitable. I think of the Virginia colonists who came to America to mine gold and finally got rich by growing tobacco. This is a situation where the market will decide and the market is unpredictable. They began with about a hundred years of fishing and trading operations off the coast before settlements became profitable. Things may go faster than this in space, or things may go slower. I see no point in guessing.



On the question of near/faster-than-light travel
by SixDimensionalArray

In my understanding, the concepts of nuclear pulse propulsion that were investigated in the Orion Project had the highest real potential for generating enormous energies required for "faster" travel in space than anything we have, even today. I have always felt that it is a tragedy that this research couldn't be taken further into our modern realities of exploration.

Today, we have NASA exploring the potential (on a very small scale) of faster than light (FTL) travel using ideas such as the Alcubierre drive. In common discussion, we now hear about things such as: dark matter, quantum teleportation, FTL particles in the form of cosmic rays, the likely discovery of the Higgs Boson, spacetime, etc. These appear, to the layman like myself, to be serious discussions, with new realities and new possibilities being discovered every day.

The entirety of the NASA space program as we know it has developed within the last 60 years.

Given the advances in technology we have made in such a short time, the laws of physics, and the realities of the politics of our world, do you think it is feasible that we will develop the ability for very fast, near or faster-than-light travel in the next 60 years, and which direction seems the most feasible to you?

Thank you for your contributions to science, I am humbled to be able to ask this question of you!


Dyson: I disagree with almost everything here. There are two NASAs, the real NASA which is intensely conservative and likes to use safe and reliable technology, and the paper NASA which pretends to support radical ideas but never does anything real. The paper NASA will generate a lot of hype but will certainly not lead to anything real. Faster-than-light travel is rubbish. The Orion project was designed to travel only within the solar system and is far too slow for interesting interstellar voyages. In the next 60 years we may see a public highway system started which will bring down the costs of space operations substantially, but it will not be increasing the speed of travel substantially. The important barrier to space operations is cost, not speed.



Mr. Dyson. Is AI more important than space travel?
by gestalt_n_pepper

While space travel is important for human survival in the long term, the more I think about it, the more it seems that developing a human style, scalable, artificial intelligence has for more potential to provide humans with rapid access to a much larger set of useful answers in the general domain of practical, solvable problems.

The investment should be, relatively speaking, trivial, and we already have 7 billion or so working models, so I think it's fairly certain that this can be done. Given a choice, would you advocate more resources be allocated to space travel, or AI?


Dyson: You ask whether, given a choice, I would put more resources into space or AI. My answer is that either choice would be stupid. Politicians always want to make such choices too soon, because they imagine they can pick winners. Usually they pick losers. The only way to improve the chances for finding winners is to keep all the choices open and try them all. That is particularly true for space and AI, which are not really competing with each other. They are done by different kinds of people in different kinds of enterprise. Both can and should be supported. It would be totally stupid to starve one and over-feed the other.

My own opinion is that AI has failed to fulfill its promise because we are using the wrong kind of computers. We are using digital computers, and the human brain is probably analog rather than digital. So my guess is that AI will succeed only after we move from digital to analog computing. This is a tough intellectual problem that cannot be solved just by spending a lot of money.



Transhumanism, Moore's Law, etc...
by BorisSkratchunkov

Perhaps this has been asked already (throughout the various interviews, engagements, etc that you have had hitherto), but what are your general thoughts on the Singularity movement, transhumanism, and Ray Kurzweil's overall philosophy on human progress? Are these folks realistic, optimistic, or pessimistic? What are your beliefs about the current state of human advancement, and what we must work on as we careen toward the future?

Dyson: I do not believe in any kind of ism. I believe we understand very little about human nature, about psychology or about economics. I do not take seriously any of the people who claim to predict the future. I believe them even less when they claim to be accurate predictors.



The Future of Physicists
by werepants

The early to mid 20th century was one of the most dynamic times to ever happen in physics, with massive shifts in thinking and incredible applications of science that led to some of the greatest achievements of mankind. For a variety of reasons, it seems as though progress recently has been more incremental, collective, and focused on confirming the big ideas of previous thinkers. What attribute do you think is most needed in the upcoming generation of physicists to usher in the next era of scientific progress?

Dyson: Scientific progress happens in two ways, either driven by new ideas or by new tools. The first half of the twentieth century was the time of new ideas, the second half was the time of new tools.New ideas are more exciting but new tools are often more important. For the twenty-first century, it seems that the most important contribution of physicists is to build new tools for other sciences. Examples, chemistry and biology and astronomy and computer-technology, all driven by new tools supplied by physics. This is not so exciting as discovering the Dirac equation, but probably more useful. There is plenty of good stuff for physicists to do.



Fewer Polymaths in the Modern World?
by eldavojohn

When weighted against population, it appears that there are fewer "Renaissance men/women" than there have been historically. I've heard many regular people opine about how fields require more depth and learning to make progress in them but, as a polymath yourself, what is your opinion on it?

Dyson: It is undoubtedly true that we are today drowning in information. Each of us knows a smaller fraction of the total information than earlier generations knew. Our skills have become more specialized. But I do not see any decrease in breadth of interest. The young people today are still interested in as wide a variety of subjects as we old ones were. Tools of knowledge such as the internet and Wikipedia make it easier for young people today to spread their minds over many subjects.



Parenting Esther Dyson
by ideonexus

You're daughter Esther is one of the most incredibly inspiring women role models alive today. Do you have any parenting advice for those of out here with kids of our own who would like them to become similarly active, positive, and brilliant adults?

Dyson: Thank you for your compliment to Esther and to her parents. We do not claim credit for her achievements. She was lucky to be the oldest of six, so we had little time for her and gave her little of our attention. She befitted from our benign neglect. She learned from a young age to choose her own path through life. She chose for her motto: "Always make new mistakes." I believe that is the key to her happy and productive life.

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Vacuum Cleaners (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43710883)

You didn't answer the question about the price of your vacuum cleaners!

Re:Vacuum Cleaners (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43710931)

You don't want to know.. it sucks.

Re:Vacuum Cleaners (2, Insightful)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711711)

You just weren't looking closely enough at how Dyson addressed this question within his other answers:

Scientific progress happens in two ways, either driven by new ideas or by new tools. The first half of the twentieth century was the time of new ideas, the second half was the time of new tools.New ideas are more exciting but new tools are often more important.

The only way to improve the chances for finding winners is to keep all the choices open and try them all.

There are two NASAs, the real NASA which is intensely conservative and likes to use safe and reliable technology, and the paper NASA which pretends to support radical ideas but never does anything real.

Providing conservative but reliable tools like vacuum cleaners is clearly critical to the progress of science and technology, rather than chasing after wacky Sci-Fi goals like FTL travel.

Re:Vacuum Cleaners (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43712877)

yeah, name sounds familliar

is Mr. Freeman Dyson related to the Vacuum Cleaner? www.dyson.com Just wondering.

Re:Vacuum Cleaners (1)

guruevi (827432) | about a year and a half ago | (#43714111)

Learn to Google it! James Dyson is the 'inventor' of the cyclone vacuum cleaner. Nothing to do with Freeman Dyson.

He'd fail my class. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43710935)

"Trees eat carbon almost as fast as we can burn it."

*cough* bullshit *cough*.

If that were true, then why is CO2 increasing?

Re:He'd fail my class. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43710999)

Mass deforestation.

Even though the lumber industry is slowing down the areas that were once dense forests are more likely to be re-purposed for agricultural (or other) use.

Re:He'd fail my class. (2)

WillAdams (45638) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711245)

Not only that, vast swaths of forest are planted as pulpwood, which requires huge energy inputs to convert to paper --- the manufacture of one hardcover book uses enough energy to put roughly 8.85 pounds of CO_2 into the atmosphere.

That isn't a refutation. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43711369)

What, as a percentage of forest, has been reduced? 40%? Then the trees haven't been taking the CO2 out, has it.

You'd fail my class too.

Re:He'd fail my class. (4, Informative)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711009)

"almost"

Zero as much is "almost as much"??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43711925)

Because more than half the admitted amount of CO2 human activities are putting out that were otherwise locked up is going into the oceans, so it's *already* "less than half".

But the CO2 levels are rising and at a level that is enough to account for the rest of the CO2 production above.

So "almost as much" is zero now???

And you just accepted his claim without checking?

You'd fail my class. And I teach 11-13 year olds, that's how badly you and he (And you others going "I believe 'almost' answers your case") fail.

Re:Zero as much is "almost as much"??? (2)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year and a half ago | (#43714699)

you are a bad teacher, quit immediately.

The truth is that the forests of the United States alone soak up more than 25% of human produced carbon each year.

Re:He'd fail my class. (4, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711071)

It may be true in an idealized sense. As in, if we took all the money we're about to put into carbon capture and alternative energy and instead put it into planting millions of acres of trees, we might be able to maintain atmospheric CO2 at current levels... for a while. Until we ran out of space, or had a drought and large scale fires, or until the trees started dying of old age and rotting on the ground. Unless you're gonna cut down the trees and sink them to the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean... but really, any plan that relies on ongoing expenditure of effort and money is doomed to fail in the long run. Our only realistic plan is to bring the cost of clean energy sources down to the point where the dirty ones aren't economical anymore.

Re:He'd fail my class. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43712721)

Unless you're gonna cut down the trees and sink them to the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean

This is what happens. The trees fall down, decompose into soil, the soil washes into rivers, which falls into the ocean and settles on the bottom. Where do you think oil came from in the first place? It wasn't all dinosaurs.

Re:He'd fail my class. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43717061)

Planting trees is just another carbon capture tech. If it's a relative loser, that's fine. By all means, capture carbon as cheaply as you can, and it certainly doesn't have to be plants (just don't totally write off the oldest most proven tech ever invented).

But...

Our only realistic plan is to bring the cost of clean energy sources down to the point where the dirty ones aren't economical anymore.

You can't bring clean energy costs down while you're subsidizing CO2-polluting energy techs. The disincentive makes it crazy to bother with the clean energy. Why would I pay 20 cents per KWH for nuclear or solar when the carbon pollution subsidy gives me coal energy for 10 cents per KWH? Why would anyone want to sell clean energy, knowing that I don't want to pay for it? Why work on it?

If you charge me whatever it costs to plant the forests to absorb the carbon, including the space constraints and fire risk -- if you make me pay what it really does cost instead of subsidizing my pollution -- then clean energy may be a competitive deal. If it's a competitive deal, there's reason to produce it (because you want my money; 20 cent/KWH solar beats 25 cents/KHW unsubsidized coal). Other clean energy producers want that money too. Now you're competing with each other. Now you're developing the tech. Now, you just might get the cost down, because you got your foot in the door long enough to really be able to try.

But none of that can start until you remove the pollution subsidy. That should be first priority, moreso than supporting (i.e. subsidizing) any particular carbon capture tech, or clean energy tech. The first step to winning is to stop going to extra trouble to lose.

Re:He'd fail my class. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43711089)

Because "almost as fast" is not the same as "as fast", maybe?

So we're outputting 10x as much as admitted?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43712155)

For any plausible meaning of "almost", 90% is really REALLY the bottom limit.

So you assert that if it weren't for the trees, the CO2 would be going up at 22ppm per annum, which would take it to around 1400ppm, which is a level toxic to humans..?

Do any of you idiot deniers EVER do any thinking for yourself? Or is it all just bluff an bluster?

Re:He'd fail my class. (2)

GigG (887839) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711211)

I believe the word "almost" in his answer would be the reason.

Re:He'd fail my class. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43713929)

Buying the Harley is absolutely an indicator of mid-life crisis, because if you were just interested in riding the bike rather than the "lifestyle", you'd buy a better bike for less money.

Re:He'd fail my class. (1)

MondoGordo (2277808) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711969)

Hello? ... because "almost as fast" = "slower" ... resulting in a net increase, duh!. Plus "burning it" isn't the only way that C02 is increased it's also increased by air burners breathing in and out ... so stop it!!

It hasn't *gone* slower. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43712703)

It hasn't *gone* slower, though, has it.

We're pumping out enough to up it by nearly 5ppm a year. Around 2.5ppm is going into the oceans. Around 2.2ppm is going into the atmosphere.

"Almost all" of it already accounted for, NONE of it accounted in the "going in the trees" column.

Re:He'd fail my class. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43713095)

If that were true, then why is CO2 increasing?

If we cut down all the buildings in New York city and planted trees there, they'll soak up all the CO2 being produced.

Let us know when you're ready to replace civilization with jungles.

Parent is right (4, Informative)

snowwrestler (896305) | about a year and a half ago | (#43714627)

Too bad this is getting downvoted as it is correct. Trees consume very little of the CO2 we produce from fossil fuels, in part because trees themselves produce enormous amounts of CO2 every night, which they then re-absorb during the day.

The vast majority of CO2 fixing occurs in the ocean, not the forest.

NARRATOR: So dense is the Amazon jungle that it has a dramatic impact on the air above it. It starts in the trillions of leaves far below.

We can use animation to show what this invisible process, known as photosynthesis, might look like. During the day, the leaf takes up carbon dioxide from the air, seen here in orange. It converts the carbon into sugar and releases the gas that allows us to burn our fuel, oxygen, seen in blue.

Each one of these trees will release hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of oxygen in the course of its life. And as for the Amazon as a whole, a fifth of the world's oxygen is produced here. But here's the surprise: we will breathe almost none of it. Satellite data and ground measurements reveal that almost all the oxygen the Amazon produces during the day remains there and is reabsorbed into the forest at night.

PIERS SELLERS: With the advantage of the satellites, we can now see that the Amazon basically uses all its own oxygen and uses all its own carbon dioxide. It is, as far as we can tell, almost a closed system, in and of itself, almost.

Source: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/earth-from-space.html [pbs.org]

Re:Parent is right (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43715547)

oh. Well. Too bad we're putting so much CO2 into the ocean, that it's becoming acidified. Can algae survive that?

to much time in class that is what is bad about co (0)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711027)

to much time in class that is what is bad about collage now days to much class room and a big gap in the hands on parts of learning. Trades got this right with apprenticeships.

Re:to much time in class that is what is bad about (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711143)

I can't tell if you're trying to be ironic or if you really could use another English class or three.

But hey, the classes I had to take in microbiology, astronomy and Western History Up To AD 1400 were certainly vital to my degree in IT.

Re:to much time in class that is what is bad about (2)

curunir (98273) | about a year and a half ago | (#43714319)

As poorly written as GP's post was, it zeroed in on the most interesting thing that, at least for me, was said in the interview. When someone is as accomplished in so many areas as Mr Dyson is, it stands to reason that he'd have at least some insight into the educational process. And in both his response on his own education and in the one where he talked about his daughter's education, he indicated that he thought the success of both educational processes was due to a "benign neglect" which allowed the child to actively pursue education rather than having it imposed upon them.

I'm betting that this is true for a certain type of child...one who is curious and driven to learn and that many students don't fit into that category. But thinking back on my own education, I wonder how much more successful I would have been if I'd played a bigger role in shaping my curriculum rather than having it dictated by the schools I attended.

I'm only starting to let the idea marinate a bit, but I feel like there's got to be some way to incorporate this cooperative learning phenomenon where teachers get out of the way of students and simply make themselves available as resources rather than lecturing, dictating and otherwise trying to push information into the heads of students. If feels like a pull methodology would allow students to better learn at their own pace.

Re:to much time in class that is what is bad about (2)

AthanasiusKircher (1333179) | about a year and a half ago | (#43714735)

I'm betting that this is true for a certain type of child...one who is curious and driven to learn and that many students don't fit into that category.

I'd bet it would be true for lots of children, given a perspective on education at an early age that would shape them toward benefitting from this model.

If you've ever worked with toddlers, you know that the vast majority of them are eager to explore and learn. This sticks with most kids through the early years of primary school.

At some point, though, school becomes a "chore." Social attitudes about "nerds" and "geeks" take over at most schools, kids who don't succeed on particular benchmarks are alienated, and eventually by some point in secondary school you have a majority of kids who have forgotten how to learn and be curious, at least regarding most academic subjects.

Meanwhile, parents force skills in particular ways because they see them as a vehicle for success rather than learning for knowledge's or exploration's sake. But most parents and even most teachers tend to forget that it's not the kid who learns the school material that's necessarily the most successful. It's the kid who has learned how to learn and is self-motivated to continue who will succeed much more than someone who just does what's required in school. If we seek to teach learning itself as the first "skill" in school, rather than a cookie-cutter one-fits-all curriculum of "basic skills" achieved at particular age levels for everyone, we might see a lot more kids who are eager and willing to drive their own education.

Looking at today's educational system, it may seem like only a small number of kids could really be left to their own devices to drive a lot of their learning through curiosity (obviously with some guidance). But I think it could actually work for a lot more kids (though certainly not all) if our attitudes about education were different.

Re:to much time in class that is what is bad about (1)

blue trane (110704) | about a year and a half ago | (#43714787)

MOOCs without the "honor code", which censors students helping each other.

Re:to much time in class that is what is bad about (2)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711445)

To much time, in class that is, what is bad about collage now? Days, to much class, room --- and a big gap! In the hands, on parts of learning. Trades got this, right with apprenticeships.

^^ I hope I interpreted your missing implicit punctuation correctly in parsing this sentence? I'm afraid your sophisticated abstract poetry is a bit beyond my level of comprehension.

Re:to much time in class that is what is bad about (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about a year and a half ago | (#43712305)

to much time in class that is what is bad about collage now days to much class room and a big gap in the hands on parts of learning. Trades got this right with apprenticeships.

I really hope you're not a college student.

Because if you are, you're confirming my worst fears about the next generation.

On the other hand, if you're a college graduate, it's even worse.

Re:to much time in class that is what is bad about (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43712789)

Clearly, he's a collage student, complaining about the current state of the field by pasting together random cut-out scraps of sentences in a confusing jumble.

Re:to much time in class that is what is bad about (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43712903)

It depends on what field and school you're talking about. However, at least in the sciences and engineering fields, there is still a lot of hands on work. And for many of those fields, graduate school is like an apprenticeship program. Worst case scenario at many schools, is the hands on work is avoidable or optional, in which case it is the student's fault for being lazy or not taking full advantage of their environment. At least at the university I work at now, like several that close friends also work at, there are plenty of lab courses and chances for students to work hands on development and research for various projects as an undergrad. Some of it is a little less formal during the year, other examples are full time summer work that is hands on.

Is this guy a conservative? (-1, Flamebait)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711031)

I about coughed in my coffee when he praised a Bush for making the world safer. Is this guy a conservative? If so, what is he even doing here?

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (5, Insightful)

hairykrishna (740240) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711105)

He said that Bush senior removed all the tactical nukes which made the world safer. This is true regardless of what you think of the Bush's other actions.

I'm not sure that Dyson can easily be pigeonholed into a broad political definition. He's a very smart man who says what he thinks and doesn't really give a crap about anyone elses opinion of him. I don't always agree with him but he's generally worth listening too.

Neither one [Re:Is this guy a conservative?] (3, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | about a year and a half ago | (#43713473)

I'm not sure that Dyson can easily be pigeonholed into a broad political definition. He's a very smart man who says what he thinks and doesn't really give a crap about anyone elses opinion of him. I don't always agree with him but he's generally worth listening too.

Exactly. I find him worth listening to precisely because he is identifiable neither strictly as a liberal nor a conservative.

And, indeed, "worth listening to" does not equate to "I agree with him." It means "his analyses are interesting, and often present a viewpoint that gives an unusual insight."

Re:Neither one [Re:Is this guy a conservative?] (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43714389)

Nah, he falls into this goofy category of elderly physicists who assume that their first intuition about some subject is the final word and that people who actually study the subject should be disregarded. The reason he doesn't appear to have a coherent "ideology" is that he doesn't have a coherent understanding of these issues at all. Take for example his bizarre claim that AI does not work because we're running it on digital computers. I trust that there's sufficient computer-science experience here at Slashdot to understand why this is obviously wrong. Whenever he makes a statement outside of physics (climate change being the most egregious example), it tends to be just as wrong.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43711113)

I about coughed in my coffee when he praised a Bush for making the world safer. Is this guy a conservative? If so, what is he even doing here?

Answering questions?

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43712587)

Answering questions?

Yes

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (5, Informative)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711147)

A reduction in nukes is a reduction in nukes. Also on the topic of inflammatory weapons-related conversation points, Nixon believed in fairly strict gun control [huffingtonpost.com] . Where is your god now? (Your black-and-white, two-party-system, completely facetious and entirely idiomatic god, that is.)

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43715739)

A reduction in nukes is a reduction in nukes. Also on the topic of inflammatory weapons-related conversation points, Nixon believed in fairly strict gun control [huffingtonpost.com] . Where is your god now? (Your black-and-white, two-party-system, completely facetious and entirely idiomatic god, that is.)

Who gives a fuck about Nixon or any other politician for that matter?

I see Nixon quoted in MSM movies, but almost never in anarcho/libertarian forums.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year and a half ago | (#43716181)

Indeed, Libertarians tend not to be very big on pragmatism or learning from history.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43711151)

He praised Bush Sr. for reducing nuclear weapons. Something Obama wants to do but Republicans don't. Maybe he just wants less nuclear weapons in the world and appreciates the person that does it for the action rather than demeaning them based upon a letter after their name?

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (1)

dbIII (701233) | about a year and a half ago | (#43716535)

Maybe he was just undoing a bit of Reagan's damage.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43711207)

Is this guy a conservative? If so, what is he even doing here?

Because the sub title of this site is news for nerds not news for liberals to jerk off to.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43711367)

I'm not a fan on Bush sr. either, but there's nothing wrong with praising a world leader for working towards nuclear disarmament. Credit where credit is due.

I personally don't give a damn if Dyson is "liberal" or "conservative" - to whatever extent those terms even mean anything useful at this point. I'm just glad to hear the thoughts of an inspiring and accomplished scientist of the 20th century.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (5, Insightful)

the gnat (153162) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711383)

I about coughed in my coffee when he praised a Bush for making the world safer. Is this guy a conservative?

The elder Bush gets quite a bit of praise from present-day liberals for his foreign policy. (Even my brother, who is ideologically closer to the Green Party than the Democrats, agreed with me that Bush was one of the best presidents of his lifetime.) Part of this is just nostalgia influenced by the experience of his son's foreign policy, but even from an unbiased standpoint Bush I did very well. The part that gets the most credit isn't the Persian Gulf War, but the fact that the Cold War sputtered to a halt without anything blowing up. I've always thought that Bush's chief accomplishment here was having the good sense not to do anything crazy (rather than any overt acts), but in my opinion that's one of the most underrated qualities a president can have. It has nothing to do with being "liberal" or "conservative" in the sense these words are used in American political discourse.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (1)

valadaar (1667093) | about a year and a half ago | (#43712113)

Wouldn't be prudent :)

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (4, Interesting)

lgw (121541) | about a year and a half ago | (#43713763)

I've always thought that Bush's chief accomplishment here was having the good sense not to do anything crazy (rather than any overt acts), but in my opinion that's one of the most underrated qualities a president can have. It has nothing to do with being "liberal" or "conservative" in the sense these words are used in American political discourse.

Away from politics, most people would associate "slow to do anything crazy" with "conservative". All good engineers are conservative engineers.

In politics, it always amazes me when people who would not be cool with trusting everything to an untested new bridge/building/airplane engine design are all for trusting everything to an untested new social design.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43714423)

untested new social design.

I know, right? Free the slaves? Hold up a second, buddy! My projections indicate that would cause a fourth-quarter downturn in cotton revenues. Let's not go nuts here.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (2)

lgw (121541) | about a year and a half ago | (#43714609)

know, right? Free the slaves? Hold up a second, buddy! My projections indicate that would cause a fourth-quarter downturn in cotton revenues. Let's not go nuts here.

While that was just silly flamebait, it was also wrong: slaves had largely stopped being profitable in the South when the Civil War began (thanks to automation - which works cheaper than slaves) - the issue at hand was exporting slaves to the west, which would have been a fresh revenue source for slaveholders.

It was also not an untested new idea at the time. Slavery was hardly new on this Earth, and freeing slaves in large numbers had been done many times throughout history.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43715051)

Huh, I was pretty sure my point was that some institutions are so abhorrent that they must be cast down as a moral imperative and not be indefinitely extended by the desire of those who benefit from the current state of society to avoid disrupting the comfortable status quo. But your point is good too. Maybe you have a better example of craaaazy untested ideas that non-conservatives keep trying to implement.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43716725)

Communism, Facism, the welfare state ca. 1900. One out of three variants on the theme succeeded, the others were horrific failures. All were a massive and unprecedented intrusion of government into the lives of the population. Decide for yourself how successful they were and the value of the various trade-offs.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (1)

the gnat (153162) | about a year and a half ago | (#43715057)

Away from politics, most people would associate "slow to do anything crazy" with "conservative".

Well, sure, but that's why I qualified my statement - within the bounds of US politics, self-proclaimed "conservatives" tend to leap at the chance to do something radical and crazy. (And of course self-proclaimed "liberals" are often anything but, although the resurrection of the term "progressive" has helped distinguish the more dogmatic lefty types from the rest of us.)

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year and a half ago | (#43716049)

Yeah, those terms "liberal" and "conservative" and "libertarian" now "progressive" are all lost to reasonable discussion I fear. At least we have "classic liberal" now returning to mean "pro- individual liberty".

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year and a half ago | (#43715985)

The part that gets the most credit isn't the Persian Gulf War, but the fact that the Cold War sputtered to a halt without anything blowing up.

The less said about the gulf war the better, especially for Bush. The cold war would have sputtered to what it became which was not a halt eventually, which is what happened. What, if not a halt? A below-cost weapons sale which has led to massive violence in a number of countries since, as the cold-war stockpile has been sold off.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | about a year and a half ago | (#43712111)

Do you have any facts that prove him wrong? Post them.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43713201)

Number of nuclear warheads x average warhead yield has gone up because average yield has gone up faster than number of warheads have gone down.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | about a year and a half ago | (#43713419)

Number of nuclear warheads x average warhead yield has gone up because average yield has gone up faster than number of warheads have gone down.

Except it hasn't.

The multi-megaton bombs were a thing of the '50s, when accuracies were terrible, and the solution was "just get the bomb near, and make it big."

The modern thinking on nuclear weapons is to make them small, but extremely accurately targetted. You don't need a 50-megaton Tsar-bomb if you are able to put a smaller yield weapon exactly where you want it.

Who said megabombs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43714315)

Each warhead, though can contain subunits.

They, because it hadn't been thought of at the time, don't count to the warhead count.

The count of warheads for the USA is still about 5700, mind. It's 2200 that are loaded up to be used in bases that can fire them.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43715589)

It was also somewhat of a pissing-contest.

Hence: the Apollo program, and the Saturn V, as a demonstration of nuclear megatonnage-delivery capability. (if you don't believe that; then why did the Soviets respond with THIS program? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyus_%28spacecraft%29 - - -) answer: because it was ALL about nuclear blackmail. Pretty much all the funding NASA ever got up until the Soviet collapse, was about nuclear blackmail. After that, we somehow conned a few more decades of funding out of congress via STS, ISS, and flying surveillance birds. But this era is rapidly coming to a close.

It wasn't about what was actually practical for use. It was about what we could terrorize people with.

Re:Is this guy a conservative? (1)

bussdriver (620565) | about a year and a half ago | (#43713567)

Bush Sr. did a few good things, probably by mistake. Even a broken clock...
It is right to praise that policy even if they guy may have been against it or an unwitting party to it. Jr on the other hand was trying to UNDO his father's decision and bring back tactical mini nukes etc.

I'm skeptical (3, Insightful)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year and a half ago | (#43711055)

"The same thing is true of the effects of carbon on climate. We cannot predict the effects of carbon on climate until we understand the science of climate much better than we do now. "

The thing is, Dr Dyson, that this is one of the few predictions that those who study climate for a living have made, and so far have been fairly accurate about. I agree that climatology is in its infancy, but that doesn't mean it can't accurately predict things on the level of "whatever goes up at a velocity we can manage to launch it right now always comes down again".

Re:I'm skeptical (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43711223)

The only accurate predictions I've seen climate science made are the predictions they've made about the recent past.

For example, predicting that in the future no-one would know what snow was because of Global Warming, then, when we got extremely cold and snowy winters instead, suddenly predicting that we'd get cold and snowy winters because of Global Warming.

Of late, they seem to have realized that if they're going to make predictions, it's best to make sure they can't be tested for fifty years, because they'll have retired by then.

Well, yes. Of course. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43711539)

"The only accurate predictions I've seen climate science made are the predictions they've made about the recent past."

Yes, because you don't know that they've come true until shortly after they occur.

Unless you're a psychic.

James Hansen's 1988 model gave predictions for the next 30 years that turned out to be almost spot on. He'd gotten absolutely right if he'd had a sensitivity of 3.4C per doubling rather than 3.2C per doubling.

However, you hear from WTFUWT that the models don't work (because some barnpot tried to take a 3 year prediction and show that since it was out by less than 0.1C, that the decadal prediction rate was off by 300%). So that's what you believe because you're sure as hell not going to investigate that, since it so nicely chimes with your predilictions.

Re:Well, yes. Of course. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43712887)

James Hansen's 1988 model gave predictions for the next 30 years that turned out to be almost spot on

Only if you pretend that we halted the increase in emissions, which we didn't. If you take actual reality into account his model failed miserable, as have all other climate models done in predicting the future.

Nope, no need to pretend that. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43714021)

If you take reality into account, his model worked.

If you take denier "ur-reality" into account, you'd be right, but you'd be a frigging idiot do to so.

Re:Well, yes. Of course. (1)

Bongo (13261) | about a year and a half ago | (#43713049)

What's with the charts that we are doing even better than his best and most optimistic case scenario? There seems to be a lot of misinformation about what he predicted. What's your source?

Go to Realclimate. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43713495)

Search for Hansen prediction. There are three on the subject that pertain.

One is about the hatchet-job Christy did, where he pretended the "Worst case" was the "most likely case" and picked an end year where the record had a bit of a jump and even then had to play fast and loose with the maths to make it "failed badly".

The other two are about the prediction as made, including the actual trajectory of the emissions scenaro that actually took place, then a second one for how well it's done since then.

Alternatively, you can go to Google Scholar and check out the paper yourself. I did.

Re:I'm skeptical (1)

dbIII (701233) | about a year and a half ago | (#43716579)

I agree that climatology is in its infancy

It's been over a century since the El Nino/La Nina effect was found and there was a bit of climatology before that. A huge pile of the experiments in Antarctica in the first couple of decades of the 1900s were to fill a hole in the understanding of global climate at the time.
Looks like it's time for you to find a more accurate insult for a group you don't like for some petty political reason. It's also depressing that you've got a chance to communicate with one of the greatest living scientists but here you are just throwing politically motivated insults at a group that Dr Dyson has little or nothing to do with.

*cough* (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43711075)

Ugh, I need a glass of water while I read this he's so dry.

douchebag (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43711141)

pretty much answered every question by being a douche

Re:douchebag (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43711243)

Unlike you.

The Most Interesting Question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43711811)

... Would have been: did he ever see the Star Trek TNG episode "Relics" which realized the vision of a Dyson Sphere?

Re:The Most Interesting Question... (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about a year and a half ago | (#43713641)

In my opinion, that sphere seemed way too small.

"overtly racist" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43712017)

The US is always schizophrenic about immigration. In those days the situation was generally worse than today, with strict immigration quotas. I benefited because I was British and we had the biggest quota.

Why? Is Britain overtly white? Wouldn't an overtly racist quota focus on the race not the country? What is wrong with having a higher quota for allies and, likely, top notch physicists/engineers we needed for the cold war???

What we do now is also "racist" by the country standard you employ. We focus on bringing people here from countries that hate us and ignore our more natural allies and economic partners - like Mexico.

I'd be happy with origin neutral policies that auctioned it all off to the highest bidder slot by slot. That's one way to raise taxes with a lesser degree of coercion.

Wires (2)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year and a half ago | (#43712125)

My own opinion is that AI has failed to fulfill its promise because we are using the wrong kind of computers. We are using digital computers, and the human brain is probably analog rather than digital

Thank you! Been saying this for 10 damned years.

Re:Wires (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43715261)

I don't get this. Any analog system can be modelled to arbitrary precision by a digital system. Or - assuming you believe the analog system to be just that (with no supernatural glue, souls etc) - an analog system is just an implementation of a digital/numeric model, using some analog quantity to model the numbers to some level of precision above the noise level. I don't see what the intrinsic difference is.

OTOH, I was always fascinated by non-deterministic digital designs - things like stochastic bit-stream computing. Ever seen this? If not ... Consider representing numbers not as a register of bits, but as values from 0->1 using a stream of bits down a wire where P(b=1) represents your number. So 010011010010011101101 is about 1/2.

Then, multiplication of 2 streams is done with a single AND gate (assuming streams are independent)! And you get a fast answer in the first few bits, with better answers if you wait. There is a whole set of logic functions for this. And the beauty is, if you lower your currents enough, individual electrons and photons become your probabilistic sequence. You can build whole neurons with this stuff, with weighting factors and thresholds using simple structures.

I never understood why this didn't take off. Maybe this is more like what Dyson was thinking?

Re:Wires (1)

Musc (10581) | about a year and a half ago | (#43715381)

This sounds a lot like super audio cd. Rather than use a given number of bits to encode a number that represents the height of the sound wave at a point in time, and then use a sequence of numbers to approximate a sound wave, the signal is represented as a continuous stream of individual bits. When you want to know the height of the sound wave at a point in time, you take an average of the bit stream centered around the point you are interested in.

Re:Wires (1)

dbIII (701233) | about a year and a half ago | (#43716627)

I never actually got to play with patch cables but I was taught a subject on analogue computers some years ago. It was much easier to accurately model systems of springs and dampers that way than with numerical models on digital computers. You can do integration directly with an amplifier instead of having to approximate it with Newton's method or whatever. They probably still have a potential place in solving some problems.

Re:Wires (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year and a half ago | (#43716991)

I don't get this. Any analog system can be modelled to arbitrary precision by a digital system.

I don't think he's talking specifically about digital per say, rather it's been proven that some problems can't be solved by Turing machines. It is unknown if another design could produce better results, but some people theorize that our brain is a machine that is superior to computers, and can solve problems that computers never can.

I personally disagree with this theory, but admit it is still in the realm of unknown.

Thank you (1)

godrik (1287354) | about a year and a half ago | (#43712203)

Thank you Dr Dyson for sharing your views on the world with us!

You are not a qualified expert in climate change (-1)

WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) | about a year and a half ago | (#43712539)

So why do you continue to shoot your mouth off about it, using your qualifications in one field in which you have a valid claim to earned authority in an attempt to promote a non-scientific opinion in another field in which you can stake no legitimate claim ?

Do science like everyone else does - conduct research, publish your findings in legitimate peer reviewed journals and publicly answer your critics to the scientific community's satisfaction- or shut the fuck up.

Re:You are not a qualified expert in climate chang (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year and a half ago | (#43713853)

How right your are! No True Climate Scientist would ever question the consensus! The one true measure of truth is that it's spoken by "earned authority" after all. </sarcasm>

Re:You are not a qualified expert in climate chang (0)

WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) | about a year and a half ago | (#43714115)

You have a better way to arrive at knowledge about reality other than the scientific method . It seems to involve romantic notions about mavericks and strong individuals speaking truth against power.

Perhaps we should refer to the Sara Palins of the world in matters involving the nature of reality.

Please, feel free to improve on the process of how science is conducted. I'm sure you're sure you're qualified. Of course the fact that practicing scientists would reject your notions as more or less insane would just prove the existence of the conspiracy you're working to expose.

Re:You are not a qualified expert in climate chang (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year and a half ago | (#43714507)

Most science is conducted by making falsifiable predictions about future measurements. Confirmed (or falsified) predictions speak for themselves, the "authority" of the scientists is irrelevant. Also, it doesn't take an "authority" to call BS - the burden is on the scientist making the claims to answer skeptics. If skeptics keep asking the same dumb questions, you make a FAQ [talkorigins.org] . Saying "I'm right because shut up" is not science.

Dyson is rightly pointing out that this is a new area without much track record, and without much depth of understanding of underlying mechanisms. He's not saying "you're wrong" so much as "don't get cocky yet - you still might be wrong about something important".

Re:You are not a qualified expert in climate chang (2)

Musc (10581) | about a year and a half ago | (#43715119)

> The one true measure of truth is that it's spoken by "earned authority" after all.

So you think people who know nothing but have a hunch are just as likely to be right as someone who has spent years studying and learning?

Re:You are not a qualified expert in climate chang (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year and a half ago | (#43716019)

I think it's irrelevant - a hypothesis worthy of consideration makes falsifiable predictions, and those prove true or otherwise. If we're talking about the maturity of a discipline as a whole, I'd give credence to a scientist, sure (though someone outside the discipline in question might be more objective), and I think Freeman Dyson has the background to comment intelligently

Re:You are not a qualified expert in climate chang (0)

WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) | about a year and a half ago | (#43714181)

What do we learn from my questions 0 rating? That calling out prestigious cranks in just the way they deserve to called out can be hazardous to your slashdot question's rating.

Meanwhile, Dyson's counter-factual meanderings about climate change only serve to buttress and legitimize the deniers and their talking points at the end of which process lies a lot of real destruction and death of innocent people.

Reality. It's not just what you think.

"Faster-than-light travel is rubbish." (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43712681)

Dear space nerds, please fucking tattoo these words on your foreheads: "Faster-than-light travel is rubbish." Every damn time the topic comes up, there is a crowd of fools who post about how FTL is possible and we just don't know how to do it yet. No! The preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that it isn't and that has been the case for many years now.

Wise comments on FTL and space travel (3, Insightful)

Pausanias (681077) | about a year and a half ago | (#43712691)

I think his comments on FTL and all the hype about interstellar space exploration are totally spot-on. All the Alcubierre drive news that had NASA's name attached to it was traceable to one guy there who doesn't even really understand general relativity. What you have to understand about NASA is that they tend to write blank checks as far as exaggerations in press releases go; so while the work actually being done (building an interferometer) is valid, the hype attached to it about this and that could be extremely overblown (interferometer will be used to test FTL travel). The end result is "NASA working on warp drive" headlines where the real headline should be something much more humble and limited.

Re:Wise comments on FTL and space travel (0)

bzipitidoo (647217) | about a year and a half ago | (#43714229)

Is not a Dyson Sphere also grandiose hype?

If NASA is guilty of pandering, the media and public are as guilty of demanding it. Star Trek is science fantasy, in that everything depends on FTL travel, which as far as we know is impossible. It is actually very pedestrian that a show like Star Trek would be an American Manifest Destiny fantasy projected into space. Our heroes dash about the galaxy, in a ridiculously physical, hands on style of exploration that is just like the exploration of the New World and Africa by European adventurers. You have to send an Away team to the surface of the planet, and watch how some guy in a red shirt loses his life in an encounter with hostile natives, aliens, deadly substances, or whatever, so you can figure what to do next. You just can't explore a place properly any other way.

Without FTL, the entire premise would be impossible. We'd have to explore with awesomely powerful telescopes, and robotic missions spanning thousands of years. Our TV show writers would have a heck of a time struggling to make that interesting. Then too, not much is said of the point of all this poking of our noses into every corner of the galaxy. What's it all for? To Seek Out Life, yes, but why and most especially why in that manner, by physically visiting in an FTL capable ship? Only so that it can be exploited in some fashion by the evil, greedy following wave of people who will move in the moment the heroes move on! They only wait a little, so that the heroes can better pretend the Prime Directive isn't a sick joke. Of course there is the danger of the opposite happening, as the Borg threaten to do. Europeans of the 1500s were never going to leave the entire New World untouched and pristine, turning it into a giant nature preserve, even if such a notion had occurred to them. If today there were more newly discovered lands we could reach and use, we would and to pretend otherwise is just fooling ourselves. We haven't changed that much! Just as our history glosses over much of our conquests of natives, so Star Trek doesn't grapple much with the implications of exploration. A mere visit is indeed enough to make the Prime Directive impossible to uphold.

As for what our future holds, Dyson refused to speculate much, not that the one question sort of about it did more than glance upon the subject. A pity. We likely will stay right here on Earth for tens of thousands of years, and our advances will be much more subtle than the mere colonization and harnessing of new lands on alien worlds. We will become smarter and wiser. We may make ourselves into cyborgs, and not the ghoulish, creepy Borg of STNG, but more like various comic superheroes such as Wolverine. Or perhaps we will become more like a giant ant colony on a mental level, a super organism like Asimov's Gaia, constantly communicating. While that is happening, maybe we will colonize Mars, and maybe not. The directions we go also depend greatly on what we want to do. Right now, the idea of colonizing Mars has a powerful appeal, but it may not sound so thrilling by the 25th century.

Re:Wise comments on FTL and space travel (1)

operagost (62405) | about a year and a half ago | (#43714693)

We may make ourselves into cyborgs, and not the ghoulish, creepy Borg of STNG, but more like various comic superheroes such as Wolverine.

I don't think many people set out with the idea of being evil for evil's sake. If we become the compliant automatons that the world's governments demand, we'll be much more like the Borg.

Discussion at Hacker News (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43712857)

Please join in the discussion of this at Hacker News as well: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5699457 [ycombinator.com]

Mr. Dyson. Thank you for answering my question. (3, Insightful)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about a year and a half ago | (#43712997)

Though your response intimated that my basic assumptions about resource allocation by governments and industry were wrong, that too is useful insight. I'm not sure it's entirely correct, however.

Both private industry and goverments are littered with failed ideas, and I am skeptical that one really does better or worse than another at picking winners and losers. Private industry, I think, simply has more active public relations machinery.

Capitalist societies seem to act more like a bacteria colonies, successfully reacting to resource availibility and strategies with immediate results while ignoring long-term consequences of their actions. Capitalism, it might be said, doesn't think ahead. That's what governments should be for, although in a democracy with a 4-year cycle, this view is often too limited for useful long-term action on matters like hydrocarbon energy depletion and global warming.

Not understanding AI. That's fine. (1, Insightful)

RR (64484) | about a year and a half ago | (#43713335)

I think Dyson is a bit too pessimistic about AI. AI hasn't fulfilled the promises of human-level conversational intellect, but those promises were unrealistic. I think the problem is that people want computers to emulate human minds and human souls, when we don't even know how humans work. The solution is that computers are their own type of device, with a so-far unconscious intelligence that far exceeds human intelligence. There's even a Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] about the challenge in the perception of AI.

For example:

  • Calculating trigonometric values. Used to require teams of careful researchers. Now it's done by cheap pocket calculators.
  • Translating source code to machine code and optimizing it. Used to be done by hand, now the best compilers are more clever than all but the most insane of programmers.
  • Finding complicated derivatives and integrals. Used to require big teams to calculate, now it's a loss leader [wolframalpha.com] for a SaaS product.
  • Learning complicated tasks. Used to be a unique human trait, now computers use it to play video games. [arstechnica.com] They just get no enjoyment out of the process.

Computers can't do what humans do, but what they do well, they do far faster, more cheaply, and more accurately than humans ever could.

Re:Not understanding AI. That's fine. (2)

Musc (10581) | about a year and a half ago | (#43715049)

I once heard it said that AI is defined as any task that a computer can't yet do. Once we learn how to write a program to perform that task, it is no longer considered AI. Chess is a good example. We once thought that it required intelligence to beat a grandmaster at chess. Now we know it just requires an algorithm, no intelligence required. If AI is defined this way, then we will indeed never achieve it.

Re:Not understanding AI. That's fine. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43715217)

I've heard it said too, but there's a point lost in here. We once thought it required intelligence to beat a grandmaster at chess ... perhaps because in those days the computer couldn't run the algorithm in time, so a requirement was invented for a different algorithm using "intelligence" (deus ex machina) that could run in time, on those machines. Now Deep Blue has the computing power to run the algorithm, modulo some optimizations, deep enough to beat anyone. The algorithm to win chess is trivial if you assume infinite computer power, so we've always known it only requires an algorithm. What we still don't know is how to program mystical "intelligence" which is in effect a shortcut - a much faster algorithm that gets equivalent results, so could have beaten a grandmaster on 1960 hardware.

But that "intelligence" can't be the intelligence embodied by a brain - by a simple numbers game brain intelligence is *more* complex than running a pruned tree search on the domain of chess. They were looking for intelligence as a shortcut to solving hard problems, but it seems likely that its nature is the exact opposite.

Just my rambling $0.02

Re:Not understanding AI. That's fine. (2)

quantaman (517394) | about a year and a half ago | (#43715545)

Yeah, his answer seemed to be "we can't do human AI with our digital computers, maybe the problem is the tool and we need different computers". That seems premature to me since we understand higher level consciousness and the brain so poorly, the problem isn't so much the tool as the fact we're not even really sure what the problem is.

So Dyson's a big fan of PV? (1)

jafac (1449) | about a year and a half ago | (#43715613)

. . . who could have imagined that?

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