This Week’s “Planet Earth” Report –Undestroyable ‘Hypersonic’ Missiles to Decoding Extraterrestrials and Post-Human Interstellar Travel




This week's link to headlines around the world on the threats, opportunities, and dangers facing our fragile planet –along with an occasional dash of humor and intriguing conspiracy. 



China’s New Electric Car Rules Are Amazingly Aggressive  



This is how you really get an industry to change its ways. Bloomberg reports that China’s government has announced that any automaker producing or importing more than 30,000 cars in China must ensure 10 percent of them are all-electric, plug-in hybrid, or hydrogen-powered by 2019. That number will rise to 12 percent in 2020.

In fact, the new regulations are actually more lenient than drafts of the rules had suggested: they scrap a 2018 introduction to give manufacturers more time to prepare, and will also excuse failure to meet the quota in the first year. So, really, the 12 percent target in 2020 is the first enforceable number.

That still doesn’t make it very easy, as the Wall Street Journal notes (paywall). Domestic automakers already make plenty of electric cars (largely at the government's behest), which means that they should be able to meet the numbers, but Western firms will find it harder. In preparation, some have actually set up partnerships with Chinese companies to help them build electric vehicles in time.

Other nations have also been pushing to limit the sale of cars that run on fossil fuels. The U.K. and France have both recently decided to outlaw the sale of new internal-combustion cars by 2040. But as the world's largest car market, China’s push will have a more profound effect on the industry.

These kinds of big policy shifts are, as we’ve argued before, the only way to quickly make electric cars pervasive. A recent analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggested that electric vehicles could account for as many as half of all new cars sold by 2040. If the world follows China’s lead, that figure could yet turn out to be a cautious estimate.

Wyoming Man Travels from 2048 to Warn of Alien Invasion 


Sadly, he ended up in the wrong year. We’ve all had those nights where we’ve watched a little too much “Ancient Aliens,” but holy hell did one very drunk guy overdo it. On Monday, Oct. 5, police in Casper, Wyoming arrested a man for public intoxication who claimed to be a time-traveler sent to save humanity from aliens.

According to local news outlet KTWO-AM, Casper resident Bryant Johnson had a blood alcohol content of .136 but exhibited no clear evidence of alien abduction.

“[He] claimed he was from the year 2048, and was trying to warn the people of Casper that aliens were coming next year, and they should leave as soon as possible,” KTWO-AM notes. “Johnson told police the only way he was able to time travel was to have aliens fill his body with alcohol and have him stand on a giant pad which transported him to 2017, but he ended up in wrong year, and was supposed to be in 2018.” There is literally no way I could write those sentences better than KTWO-AM did, so I’ve left them perfectly in tact. obtained Johnson’s redacted affidavit from the Casper Police Department. Unfortunately, it makes no mention of time-traveling, alien abduction, or any combination of the two.



Social Media Users Decoded a Simulated Message from Extraterrestrials



Humanity won’t share a language with an alien civilization, so how can we decode a message from ET if we receive one? One astrophysicist says: crowdsource it.

In 1961, a small group of scientists met at the Green Bank radio astronomy observatory in West Virginia to discuss the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. One of the organizers was Frank Drake, who used the conference to present his now famous Drake equation describing the likelihood of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.  But Drake also used the occasion to carry out a less-well-known experiment.

The question he addressed was the following. If humanity received a message from the stars, how could we decode it given that it we have no language in common? Similarly, if we want to send a message, how should we compose it?

To explore this issue, Drake created a message of his own and challenged the participants at the conference to decode it. He received a single reply written in the same code, clearly indicating that the message had been understood. Afterward, an amateur electronics magazine published the message, and about a year later, Drake received a letter with the correct solution from a reader of this magazine.

That points to an interesting idea. If we ever receive a message from the stars, one option would be to release it via social media and exploit the world’s combined brain power to decode it.

Last year, one researcher tested this idea by doing exactly that. Rene Heller from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany created a simulated message from an alien civilization and released it on Twitter and Facebook for the world to decode. “On Tuesday, 26 April 2016, I submitted a fake SETI message to the social media Twitter and Facebook and called it the SETI Decrypt Challenge,” say Heller.

Today, he publishes the results of this experiment, showing how people joined forces to crack the seemingly alien code.

The challenge that Heller set is to imagine that Earth has received a message in the form of series of radio pulses from a fixed, unresolved source about 50 light years from Earth. These pulses have been received in a narrow band around an electromagnetic frequency of 452.13 MHz, a frequency that is pi times the emission frequency of neutral hydrogen atoms.

Heller has placed an audio version of the message here. And the question he asks: what does this message say?

Heller constructed the message using some techniques that have already been used in messaging extraterrestrial intelligences. The message consists of a number of pictures that can be constructed by arranging the data in an array of particular dimensions.

Read more….


Interstellar travel and post-humans 




The stupendous time-spans of the evolutionary past are now part of common culture. Our Sun is less than half way through its life. It formed 4.5 billion years ago, but it has got six billion more before the fuel runs out. It will then flare up, vaporizing any life that might still remain on Earth. Any creatures witnessing the Sun’s demise six billion years hence will not be human-they will be as different from us as we are from a bug.

Post-human evolution could be as prolonged as the Darwinian evolution that has led to us, but at the much accelerated rate allowed by genetic modification and the advance of machine intelligence. However this century may be a defining moment. We humans are entitled to feel uniquely significant, as the first known species with the power and the responsibility to mold its own future —and perhaps the future of intelligence in the cosmos. Three new technologies will be crucial in the rest of this century: advanced biotech, artificial intelligence and the ability to explore space.

By 2100 courageous pioneers may have established “bases” independent from the Earth but do not ever expect mass emigration from Earth. It is a dangerous delusion to think that space offers an escape from Earth’s problems. There is no “Planet B” and space is an inherently hostile environment for humans. For that reason, even though we may wish to regulate genetic and cyborg technology on Earth, we should surely wish the space pioneers good luck in using all such techniques to adapt to different atmospheres, different g-forces, and so on. This might be the first step toward divergence into a new species: the beginning of the post-human era.

But are we unique, or is there intelligent life out there already? There may be simple organisms on Mars or in the ice-covered oceans of Jupiter’s moon Europa but few would bet on it; and certainly nobody expects a complex biosphere in such locations. For that, we must look to the distant stars and here the prospects are far brighter: we have recognized that there are, within our Milky Way Galaxy, millions of planets resembling the young Earth. But do we expect alien life on these extra-solar planets? Conjectures about advanced or intelligent life are, of course, far shakier than those about simple life.

Perhaps the Galaxy already teems with advanced life, and our descendants will “plug in” to a galactic community —as rather “junior members.” On the other hand, our Earth may be unique and the searches may fail. This would disappoint the searchers. But it would have an upside. Humans could then be less cosmically modest. Our tiny planet could be the most important place in the entire cosmos. Moreover, we would be living at a unique time in our planet’s history: our species would have cosmic significance, for being the transient precursor to a culture dominated by machines, extending deep into the future and spreading far beyond Earth.

Interstellar travel is inherently of long duration, and is, therefore, an enterprise for post-humans, evolved from our species not via natural selection but by design. The first voyagers to the stars will not be human, and maybe not even organic. Evolution is just beginning. Intelligent entities—descended from Earthly life—could spread through the entire Galaxy, evolving into a teeming complexity far beyond what we can even conceive.

And that is not all: there is a final disconcerting twist. Post-human intelligence will develop hyper-computers with the processing power to simulate living things —even entire worlds as complex as the one we perceive ourselves to be in. Maybe these kinds of superintelligences already exist elsewhere in the multiverse. What would these superintelligences do with their hyper-computers? They could create virtual universes vastly outnumbering the “real” ones. So perhaps we are “artificial life” in a virtual universe. This concept opens up the possibility of a new kind of “virtual time travel,” because the advanced beings creating the simulation can, in effect, rerun the past.

Possibilities once in the realms of science fiction have shifted into serious scientific debate. From the very first moments of the big bang to the mind-blowing possibilities for alien life, parallel universes, and beyond, scientists are led to worlds even weirder than most fiction writers envisage. It is remarkable that our brains, which have changed little since our ancestors roamed the African savannah, have allowed us to understand the counter-intuitive worlds of the quantum and the cosmos. But there is no reason to think that our comprehension is matched to an understanding of all key features of reality. If our remote descendants reach the stars, they will surely far surpass us not only in lifespan, but in insight as well as technology.

Read more…


Beware Undestroyable 'Hypersonic Missiles'




The US, Russia, and China are all separately developing these speedy munitions, which can fly faster than 3,000 miles per hour. The USAF X-51A Waverider is set to demonstrate hypersonic flight above.

New types of missiles flying faster than five times the speed of sound pose a unique threat to the global balance of power, and the leading military powers should work together to stop their spread.

That's the conclusion of a new study from the RAND Corporation, a California think tank that works closely with the US military.

"Hypersonic missiles … are a new class of threat because they are capable both of maneuvering and of flying faster than 5,000 kilometers per hour," RAND cautioned. "These features enable such missiles to penetrate most missile defenses and to further compress the timelines for a response by a nation under attack."

The think tank noted that the United States, Russia, and China are all separately developing these speedy munitions, including air-launched hypersonic cruise missiles and "glide vehicles" that are typically boosted to hypersonic speeds by ground-launched rockets.

In 2012, China began using the world's biggest wind tunnel to test hypersonic vehicle designs. The following year, Russia revived long-dormant fast-munitions programs. The Pentagon has tested several prototype weapons capable of traveling Mach 5 or faster. In July 2017, the US Air Force formally asked the defense industry to propose designs for a new hypersonic missile.

Now other regions and countries—RAND cited Europe, Japan, Australia, and India—have begun to tinker with key hypersonic technologies, which include special engines and exotic, heat-absorbing materials. "Proliferation could cross multiple borders if hypersonic technology is offered on world markets," the report stated.

To an outside observer, some hypersonic weapons are nearly indistinguishable from nuclear-tipped rockets during their initial phases of flight. A country on alert for an atomic sneak-attack could mistake a non-nuclear, hypersonic weapons-launch for an atomic strike—and strike back with nukes the instant it detected a launch.

"The proliferation of such missiles beyond the United States, Russia and China could result in other powers compressing their response timelines in ways that set their strategic forces on hair-trigger states of readiness—such as a strategy of 'launch on warning,'" RAND warned.

Russia was sufficiently alarmed by advances in US hypersonic weaponry that, in 2015, it reorganized much of its military specifically to counter future Mach-5 missiles. The reorganization combined the air force and air-defense troops and required them to answer more quickly to the same commanders.

The more countries and armed groups that possess hypersonic weapons, the greater the risk of one of the super-fast munitions triggering a nuclear war. "The unavoidable requirement is for the United States, Russia and China to agree on a nonproliferation policy," RAND stated, adding that France—an established diplomatic go-between—"could play a key role in bringing other governments into agreement on a broader control policy."

Read more…


China’s Aims to Expand Its Cyber Domination






In the past few months, China announced grand plans to expand its dominance massively in the cyber realm. In February 2014, President Xi Jinping took personal control of cyber policies by creating the Central Cyberspace Affairs Leading Group according to Asia Times. At a cybersecurity symposium in April 2016, Xi pledged greater commitment, both financially and policy-wise, to upping China’s cybersecurity capabilities – particularly the identification, recruitment and cultivation of talented individuals.

Beijing views cybersecurity and national security as equals, and a war between China and the US, if it ever occurs, will witness many cyberspace duels

Last Week General Joseph Dunford’s mind when as chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chinese mastery in cyber-warfare was without a doubt on General Joseph Dunford’s mind when as chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staf he named China as the greatest future threat to US security at a congressional hearing last week.

According to Tencent’s “Internet Security Report: First Half of 2017”, China currently suffers from a severe shortage of cybersecurity professionals. In the past few years, Chinese universities only graduated around 30,000 cybersecurity majors, while the current demand for such professionals has risen above 700,000 – a number projected to top 1.4 million by 2020.

The gap is huge. But the Chinese government does have a plan.

On August 15 this year, the Central Cyberspace Affairs Leading Group and the Chinese Education Ministry issued a joint decree formalizing a set of rules on constructing first-rate cybersecurity schools.

In 10 years’ time, the plan seeks to establish four to six world-class cybersecurity schools in Chinese universities as training grounds for cyber-warriors. All resources at these institutions – from teaching staff to incentive structures – will be dedicated solely to fostering top-notch cyber-warriors. Universities must meet certain criteria before they can apply for state support.

The first batch of state-sponsored pilot programs was approved in mid-September. These seven schools are Xidian University, Southeast University, Beihang University, Wuhan University, Sichuan University, the University of Science and Technology of China, and the Strategic Support Force Information Engineering University.

One quickly notices two trends. First, the seven schools encompass all regions of China, meaning the search for talent will cover the entire nation of 1.37 billion. Second, the batch is a mixture of civilian and military-affiliated universities. Such a model of civil-military integration will help schools complement one another’s limitations.

Young geeks make perfect cyber-warrior candidates. The geekier the better, since top-tier computer wizards are often strange individuals with unconventional ways of thinking. The consensus among Chinese university talent scouts is to find young Prometheans with strong cybersecurity interests and a cyber-related specialty.

While recruiting normally happens at college-freshmen lecture halls or hacking competitions, some institutions including Xidian University have expanded their scouting network to secondary schools in search of promising candidates.

After completing three years of coursework, the cyber-warriors will work in a corporate environment for a year of real world experience. This is called the “3+1 plan”. Outstanding graduates are fast-tracked to the Strategic Support Force, the wing of the People’s Liberation Army in charge of cyber, electronic and space warfare.

While China’s cyber-warrior training curriculum is by no means perfect – the emphasis on offensive tactics über alles, for example – the Chinese leadership, in cooperation with universities, corporations, and the military, is proactively making improvements and preparing training grounds for a massive expansion of its cyber-warrior army.

Looking ahead, we should anticipate significant growth in Chinese cyber-warfare capabilities, something that China will put to test in a future blitz against foreign cyber-infrastructure.

Read more…

(Image credit: Glitch


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