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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.


The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Automating Everything - Extreme Environments and Space Manufacturing and Repairs - Part 6

This remote-oversight system can also be applied to using robots in other circumstances where having humans physically present would be unnecessarily dangerous – on battlefields, in raging fires, underwater or in space. Because basic controls added to an easily controlled robot allow the addition of human insight, skill and common sense, any robot that can be employed at a task can have any set of human talents added to their own capacities, dramatically augmenting their abilities in many different scenarios.

Remote manufacturing and repair is ideal for operations taking place in environments so remote and/or hostile that few if any human beings are ever present. For example, an Antarctic station might need to fix equipment when the staff present is completely lacking in the skills needed, or when there is in fact no one present. An undersea station for research or mining might have similar issues. Finally, there is a large, near-future potential for using these resources in space.

A space station such as the ISS tends to have an extraordinarily qualified and well-trained crew aboard, yet having access to a wider array of repair and manufacturing skills in real time would always be welcome. Given the 186,000 m/s speed of light, we could allow Earthbound professionals to take over key tasks both in that environment and potentially in hard vacuum outside. Improved laser-based optical links or other efficiencies in communication could help keep the time delay down to a manageable level, even when dealing with stations hovering in geosynchronous orbit.

A more locally sourced set of professionals, however, has its own uses. To the extent that astronauts can act through remote links in vacuum and other severe environments, they will not only be able to manage repairs outside their vessels without the burden and risk of heading out in a spacesuit, but they will also be able to oversee work in nearby manufacturing sites. Would-be asteroid miners such as Planetary Resources have proposed collecting metal-bearing asteroids passing near the Earth and tapping them for their minerals. Estimates range as high as $1 trillion-worth of precious metals each in prospective choices. But the value of orbital mining is not just in the abundance of the resources, but their location. Already floating in microgravity, unique properties can be created with certain manufactured materials (ultra-pure crystals, orbital-forged metals, potential pharmaceuticals, etc).

But mining and smelting in a vacuum or low-atmospheric environment w/negligible life support has many challenges, not least that human beings require a tremendous amount of resources simply to survive in space, much less to thrive there for any length of time. But what if you could source your expertise from the Earth below or, failing that, from just one or two nearby space stations such as the ISS? Then you could have nearby experts on hand when even a fifth-of-a-second delay might be too great a limit in handling a real-time task, and unlimited expertise accessible planetside when any time delays involved were a non-issue. In effect, an Earthbound workforce, supplemented by close-at-hand orbital workers, could manage an immense operation easily and without a staggering investment in life-support systems and amenities that putting everyone in space would require.

A much smaller version of the above, flexible robots, adapted to human remote control, could also be used in other circumstances when being able to reach out directly and intervene in an automated system could be of use. For example, what if manipulating microscale objects proved more effective in some circumstances in the hands of highly talented humans with a “felt sense” of how to complete an action in an only partially controlled environment. In that case, perhaps a micro-robot cleaning out arteries might need assistance in handling an odd distortion in the blood vessel wall or an unusually resistant clot. Or direct control might help in some ways with microscale construction when changing electromagnetic fields, vibration or other variables gave existing software challenges in completing a structure. Or you simply might use miniaturized robots to repair electronics, all the way down to circuit boards or even some chips. Some of these options may fade as programming and algorithms adapt to changing environments, but as with the lead-by-the-nose “teaching” technique on factory floors, human insight may pave the way to better automated solutions, particularly ones in which simple trial-and-error may prove too risky with a system that can only find a solution by making a host of errors. An operation is not the time for random experimentation when there are better options.

Part 1
Part 5
Part 7


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July 11, 2018 5:32 PM  

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