I’ve just seen Robocop again, just for amusement and I realized there is a flaw in the way we imagine robots. Most robots are not depicted as ambidextrous even if that capability can be easily achieved due to the multitasking capability of current computers and softwares.

The only exception I remember of is the robot in “I, Robot” who could draw using both hands at the same time. I guess our own nature is the one to limit our imagination since we can usually use effectively only one hand at a time.

Furthermore, robots can use more limbs and an usefull adittion would be wheels. Multitasking will enable a much better motricity, and many other things we now only begin to imagine.

The face of God

Usually science and religion don’t mix, but in the end they are both a good explanation for reality. They are both philosophies, ways of seeing the world. Where science ends it’s the place where religion begins. It’s normal, science discovers the rules, but who else, if not God, gave those rules ?

Isaac Asimov’s “Last question” is the science fiction version of religion.  I find it simple and armonious. Creation of this world is the ultimate event we might witness. Perhaps we will be around that time to see the face of God.

Specialization in society

Complex specialization is the mark of an advanced society. The first form of specialization comes with the advent of the sexes. It developes with the species in which not only does the mother bare children and defends them, but, also, the father provides food.

Complex specialization starts with the developement of tools. Some are better at fabricating the tools, some are better at using them. As tools and trades become more numerous, specialization gets more complex.

The more advanced the society, the more complex the specialization. The harder to understand the society also. It’s what happened with Europeans when they came into contact with the Chinese and the Japanese.

Specialization will apply to more advanced societies then ours, human or otherwise…

Hive civilization or individualism

Some science fiction stories describe hive type civilization.  Hive species have certain advantages but they cannot become a technological civilization, thus reducing drastically their chances to become dominant species, not to say spacefarers.

A hive has the advantage of an absolute ruler. Thus, it’s actions as a group are coherent and disputes never get in the way of a task.  Individualism tends to get in the way of accomplishing group tasks. But exactly the centralized decision making model is the main limitation of such a civilization.  There is no competition, thus progress is slow, adaptability is reduced.

A hive civilization could dominate a continent or even a planet without the help of very advanced tools. This very domination will inhibit progress. It’s easier to inhibit population growth when you can control every individual of the specie. Population growth is the main drive of expansion.

At the other extreme, purely individualistical civilization cannot form. The lack of cooperation takes care of this part. A civilization requires cooperation and specialization in order to progress.

Space feudalism

A recurring idea in many Science Fiction works is that, during space conquest, planets will form a kind of feudalistic system, each governed by a sort of monarch or noble. I believe that won’t be the case despite some interesting premises that say otherwise.

Large distances will mean independence from the home planet and also a different path of evolution. Also, new planets, won’t have a large population from the beginning. This means a lot of fragmentation and isolation and feudalism thrives in such conditions. Also, terraforming  or simply building infrastructure at a planetary level requires large resources and a lot of political will, presumably easy to achieve if both are in the same place.

But I believe such systems will not form. I don’t think people will give up democraty so easily, politics and elections will continue. We see that local politics get more attention (more people vote at the local level then at the state level).  Resources will come from economics, a more efficient way to gatter them. Political will, at the local level, will be more focused and variation will ensure that no excesses appear.

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation – Robots

I’ve just finished Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. It’s a very engaging story from a writer with strong roots in natural science. I believe Asimov’s work is extraordinary for his time, but some flaws are visible today.

Four major flaws, in my opinion, are the assumption that robots will remain metallic in essence, human in appearance and thinking, bound by laws to obey and protect us; and that they are a temporary stage in the history of humankind. It’s obvious to us that biosynthetic materials are a much better alternative to metals. It’s strange that a biochemist couldn’t foresee such an alternative.

The human appearance isn’t a must, and creating complex machines for simple tasks is inefficient. I believe a robot connected to several simpler machines makes much more economical sense. Therefor, the human appearance has more of a romantic charm. Human forms will exist, and even other natural forms (like pets), but they won’t have the same autonomy and complexity as a central operating computer. Robots will become more hive thinking.

“The Three Laws of Robotics” is an ideal. The complexity of the concepts of good and bad are beyond comprehension even to us. It’s a matter that even Asimov hits in the second Foundation Series were Daneel can’t decide witch of the possible alternatives is the best for humankind: First Foundation, Second Foundation or Gaya. In themselves, these laws are the charm of the Robots Series because of their relativeness.

The forth flaw is a more “psihohistorical” matter. It’s hard to believe humankind will stop using such a help. In all his history, humankind has used some sort of help in order to do his job. It’s our distinguishing mark. We used clubs, bows and arrows instead of our hands. Horses were our alternative to feet. Engines were just their replacements. Computers are our replacements for calculations and routine tasks, perhaps for thinking all together . Robots are the natural next step.

Galactic battles

Laser flashes, interceptors with skilled pilots dodging them, gigantic explosions… Star Wars. All heroic galactic battles, to live for, to die for… Aaaah! Nope. Galactic battles will be pretty boring.

War has always had an aura of heroism, adventure, mystery, last stands, great victories and great defeats. Lately, things changed. The main battles are fought at distance, combatants rarely see each other. Infantry is used almost exclusively to pacify areas already conquered. This will change even more for space battles.

Distance will be the main issue for any conquering campaigns. Long range weapons will be the key to vanquish the enemy. There is no advantage in attacking the enemy using small interceptors, the main ship is still in danger and without it, how will the interceptors go home ?

The muscles of the robots

Due to SF movies, action movies like Terminator and Robocop, or even new ones like I, Robot!; se tend to see the the muscles and tendons of the robots like pistons. The future will surely be different.

One big problem of current robots is grabbing objects and walking. The main issue is the fact, that their hands and their feet don’t have plastic deformation properties. This issue will probably be resolved using piezoelectric materials, but that will take some time. Probably, the advent of such materials will make robotic muscles cheap, and thus, easy to come by.

The next step will be to make materials that learn by time. A little bit of nanotechnology will enable piezoelectric materials to learn and, maybe, to grow.

The engines of spaceships

Most SF books and movies depict the engines of the spaceships as enormous being a large part of the spaceship. I believe this model is unpractical and unnecessary. Modular design will be the practical solution with several engines spread on the hull of the ship.

Firstly, why unpractical. I believe very large engines will be extremely hard to build, even impossible, because controlling the reactions in such large engines will be very hard. If engines this big will be built, attaching them to ships, will be very hard, because vibrations across large structures amplify rapidly and the structure will collapse.

Second of all, we wont need that much power. Most of it is used in takeoff, but I doubt we will build spaceships on the surface of planets. We will manufacture spaceship parts and engines on asteroids or even in space. Not just assembly, but all the fabrication process and most of the extraction of raw materials will happen on asteroids, low gravity satellites and so on. Also, several engines spread across the hull won’t cause vibrations to the structure and will better maneuver in space. These spaceships will never land on planets, rather explore them from orbit and send small ships to explore the surface.

Another advantage will be the possibility to better handle a rotating spaceship in order to create pseudo gravity.

The future of cooking

Food has seen major changes in the past century. A fast moving society lead to the belief that we will, one day, eat only concentrated pills. I don’t think eating will ever be reduced to this, but the tendency to eat fast will continue in one form or another.

Frozen, refrigerated, starch enhanced, genetically modified, quick fried fast food, we came a long way. We have less and less time do cook and to eat. This is both cause and effect of our new way of life. More and more women work in a faster and faster world. This leads to a lot of diseases: ulcer, diabetes and , the plague of the modern society, obesity. I enjoy cooking, but at work I don’t have much time to eat and I usually do it in front on the computer. But, with each occasion, I enjoy preparing a barbecue for my friends.

We must combine two tendencies: “Fast! Fast! Faster!” and “God! this tastes so good”. Probably, we will tend to eat fast food in the working days and slowly cooked food on weekends, when going out with friends, on lunch meetings etc. Slowly cooked food will never won’t disappear because it is more than just eating, is a social event.

Slow cooking will become more of a passion, a hobby and a profession and less of a physical need. Fast food will change in order to solve, at least, the obesity problem. But the problem of taste, texture and looks will be impossible to overcome.