“Planet Earth Report” provides descriptive links to headline news by leading science journalists about the extraordinary discoveries, technology, people, and events changing our knowledge of Planet Earth and the future of the human species.
Stephen Hawking –“Treating AI as Science Fiction Would Potentially Be Our Worst Mistake Ever”, reports The Daily Galaxy. “We should plan ahead,” warned physicist Stephen Hawking who died last March, 2018, and was buried next to Isaac Newton. “If a superior alien civilization sent us a text message saying, ‘We’ll arrive in a few decades,’ would we just reply, ‘OK, call us when you get here, we’ll leave the lights on’? Probably not, but this is more or less what has happened with AI.”
Efforts to create new life-forms—and new universes—will raise profound questions –“The creation of the universe and of life within it are the two fundamental pillars of the story of divine genesis in the opening chapter of the Bible. But suppose we were able to create a baby universe in the laboratory or produce synthetic life out of raw chemicals. Would that make us contenders for the title of God? And even if we dismiss these prospects as unrealistic with our current technologies, another civilization that happened to be billions of years more technologically advanced than we are might have accomplished these feats and created our universe or life in a laboratory. Should we regard such a civilization as our God? asks Harvard astrophysicist, Avi Loeb for Scientific American.
The pandemic taught us how not to deal with climate change –We must transform the economy, not halt it, to prevent runaway warming. And we’re doing it far, far too slowly today, reports MIT Technology Review.
The Anthropocene Epoch –“Did Tipping Point of Human Species Impact Begin With Nuclear Bomb Tests?” asks The Daily Galaxy. The geologic record can sometimes provide clear-cut evidence of epoch changes. For example, when a meteorite collided with Earth 66 million years ago, levels of the metal iridium from the space rock spiked in sediments around the world. This clearly marked the end of the Cretaceous period. However, trying to define the start of the proposed — and much debated — Anthropocene could be more complicated.
A new frontier is opening in the search for extraterrestrial life –The reason we haven’t found life elsewhere in the universe is simple: We haven’t really looked until now, reports astrophysicist Adam Frank for The Washington Post.
The Mutated Virus Is a Ticking Time Bomb –-There is much we don’t know about the new COVID-19 variant—but everything we know so far suggests a huge danger, reports Zeynep Tufekci for The Atlantic. “Viruses mutate all the time, often with no impact, but this one appears to be more transmissible than other variants—meaning it spreads more easily. Barely one day after officials announced that America’s first case of the variant had been found in the United States, in a Colorado man with no history of travel, an additional case was found in California.”
Surer Signs of Extraterrestrial Life –-Teams of civil space researchers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab are developing a better class of tools for detecting signs of life on other planets and moons.
The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It, reports Kashmir Hill for The New York Times –“Searching someone by face could become as easy as Googling a name. Strangers would be able to listen in on sensitive conversations, take photos of the participants and know personal secrets. Someone walking down the street would be immediately identifiable—and his or her home address would be only a few clicks away. It would herald the end of public anonymity.”
The Modern World Has Finally Become Too Complex for Any of Us to Understand, reports Tim Maughan for OneZero –“One of the dominant themes of the last few years is that nothing makes sense. …I am here to tell you that the reason so much of the world seems incomprehensible is that it is incomprehensible. From social media to the global economy to supply chains, our lives rest precariously on systems that have become so complex, and we have yielded so much of it to technologies and autonomous actors that no one totally comprehends it all.”
We’re Not Prepared for the End of Moore’s Law, reports David Rotman for MIT Technology Review –“Quantum computing, carbon nanotube transistors, even spintronics, are enticing possibilities—but none are obvious replacements for the promise that Gordon Moore first saw in a simple integrated circuit. We need the research investments now to find out, though. Because one prediction is pretty much certain to come true: we’re always going to want more computing power.”
The Immune Havoc of COVID-19 –The virus flourishes by undermining the body’s chemical defense system, reports Akiko Iwasaki and Patrick Wong for Scientific American. “We may well remember the 21st century in two halves: the time before SARS-CoV-2 and the time after.”
Need to complain? Here’s how Renaissance-era Venetians did it –Trade disputes. Tax gripes. All manner of ancient accusations were dropped into the ‘bocche di leone,’ or lions’ mouths, reports National Geohraphic.
50, 100 & 150 Years Ago: January 202, reports Dan Schlenoff for Scientific American –1971 Antievolution Evolves; John Archibald Wheelers Joy of Pulsars; 1921 Truck Transport; Connecting Coast to Coast; 1871 Thomas Henry Huxley and Camels in Nevada.
White House Declares National Planetary Protection Strategy –The policy outlines new assessments to help prevent terrestrial contamination of other worlds and vice versa, reports Interesting Engineering. “Current and future missions to Mars and other destinations necessitate a strategy to support a safe, sustainable, and predictable Earth and space environment,” explained Scott Pace, executive secretary of the National Space Council, said in a statement.
The Lasting Lessons of John Conway’s Game of Life–Fifty years on, the mathematician’s best known (and, to him, least favorite) creation confirms that “uncertainty is the only certainty,” reports Siobhan Roberts for the New York Times. “In March of 1970, Martin Gardner opened a letter jammed with ideas for his Mathematical Games column in Scientific American. Sent by John Horton Conway, then a mathematician at the University of Cambridge, the letter ran 12 pages, typed hunt-and-peck style.”
The Dark Reality of Betting Against QAnon –The conspiracy theory has been tied to real-life danger—but before it entered the mainstream, one man stumbled upon Q in a game of political predictions, reports The Atlantic.
Forget Your Five-Year Plan: What If We Visualized Humanity’s Future in Centuries, Millennia, and Beyond? asks Thomas Hornigold for Singularity Hub.
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