“Project Horizon” – another Cold War latrine hole filled with taxpayer dollar$

❝ The following article is from the new book Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader.

Believe it or not, in the 1950s the U.S. seriously considered building a military base on the Moon. Why? As Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson later put it, so that Americans would never have to go to bed “by the light of a Communist Moon.”

❝ Just before 10:30 p.m. on the evening of October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, into orbit around Earth. Sputnik was just a metal sphere with some antennas attached, not much larger than a basketball. All it did was send radio signals beeping back to Earth. But it passed over the United States several times a day, and there was nothing the government could do about it. The implications were obvious: Russian missiles that carried satellites like Sputnik into orbit might someday be used to launch nuclear weapons against America.

The Russians didn’t stop there: One month later they commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution by launching a dog into orbit aboard Sputnik 2. They boldly predicted that Soviet cosmonauts would celebrate the Russian Revolution’s 50th anniversary, in 1967, on the Moon.

❝ U.S. intelligence analysts who studied the secretive Soviet space program feared that the Russians might indeed be capable of landing on the Moon by 1967. That raised some disturbing possibilities for American military planners: What if the Soviets claimed the Moon as Russian territory? Even worse, what if they established a military base on the Moon, perhaps even a nuclear missile base with its missiles pointed back at Earth? The United States would have no way to defend itself. The only answer, at least as far as planners in the U.S. Army were concerned, was to get to the Moon first and build a lunar base before the Russians did.

…the Army’s chief of research and development, Lieutenant General Arthur Trudeau, in March 1959…directed the army’s chief of ordnance to “develop a plan…for establishing a lunar base by the quickest means possible.” Two months later the three-volume report for “Project Horizon” landed on General Trudeau’s desk.

The article is long and looney. Still worth a read. I think you can look around at some of the nutballs inhabiting our government nowadays who learned “everything they know” from the kind of people who came up with Project Horizon.

For myself, embarrassing enough to see one of the most dangerous weapons I ever worked on. Dangerous, mostly, to anyone who tried to use the piece of crap called the Davy Crockett Rocket.

The jobs killer isn’t China — it’s automation and it ain’t going away!

❝ The first job that Sherry Johnson, 56, lost to automation was at the local newspaper in Marietta, Ga., where she fed paper into the printing machines and laid out pages. Later, she watched machines learn to do her jobs on a factory floor making breathing machines, and in inventory and filing.

“It actually kind of ticked me off because it’s like, How are we supposed to make a living?” she said. She took a computer class at Goodwill, but it was too little too late. “The 20- and 30-year-olds are more up to date on that stuff than we are because we didn’t have that when we were growing up,” said Ms. Johnson, who is now on disability and lives in a housing project in Jefferson City, Tenn.

❝ Donald J. Trump told workers like Ms. Johnson that he would bring back their jobs by clamping down on trade, offshoring and immigration. But economists say the bigger threat to their jobs has been something else: automation.

“Over the long haul, clearly automation’s been much more important — it’s not even close,” said Lawrence Katz, an economics professor at Harvard who studies labor and technological change.

❝ No candidate talked much about automation on the campaign trail. Technology is not as convenient a villain as China or Mexico, there is no clear way to stop it, and many of the technology companies are in the United States and benefit the country in many ways…

❝ When Greg Hayes, the chief executive of United Technologies, agreed to invest $16 million in one of its Carrier factories as part of a Trump deal to keep some jobs in Indiana instead of moving them to Mexico, he said the money would go toward automation.

“What that ultimately means is there will be fewer jobs,” he said…

❝ The changes are not just affecting manual labor: Computers are rapidly learning to do some white-collar and service-sector work, too. Existing technology could automate 45 percent of activities people are paid to do, according to a July report by McKinsey. Work that requires creativity, management of people or caregiving is least at risk.

❝ Ms. Johnson in Tennessee said both her favorite and highest-paying job, at $8.65 an hour, was at an animal shelter, caring for puppies.

It was also the least likely to be done by a machine, she said: “I would hope a computer couldn’t do that, unless they like changing dirty papers and giving them love and attention.”

Given time. I don’t doubt an appropriate robot will be designed to at least give the appearance of giving love and attention. The question still comes back to a society, a government, elected officials who care enough about people before profits to rearrange political economy to allow us all a share in the new automated prosperity.

First London-bound freight train departs China

The first freight train from China to London set off on Sunday on a journey that will cover a staggering 7,456 miles.

It departed from Yiwu West railway station in Zhejiang Province, China, and will arrive in Barking, London, having been trundling along for 18 days.

Its route will snake through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium, France and finally Britain.

The service is being run by the China Railway Corporation. Britain is the eighth country to be added to its list of destinations, with London its 15th city.

The new route is set to boost trade ties between the UK and China with goods such as clothing and bags delivered along the re-established Silk Road, connecting Europe and Asia, according to The Indian Express, which cited a report from Xinhua news agency.

The focus on strengthening trade by expanding China’s railway infrastructure and network is part of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy, announced in late 2013.

I don’t think anyone asked Donald Trump for planning permission. Or ever will.

Lunar farside


Click to enlargeNASA/GSFC/ASU/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

Tidally locked in synchronous rotation, the Moon always presents its familiar nearside to denizens of planet Earth. From lunar orbit, the Moon’s farside can become familiar, though. In fact this sharp picture, a mosaic from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s wide angle camera, is centered on the lunar farside. Part of a global mosaic of over 15,000 images acquired between November 2009 and February 2011, the highest resolution version shows features at a scale of 100 meters per pixel.

Surprisingly, the rough and battered surface of the farside looks very different from the nearside covered with smooth dark lunar maria. The likely explanation is that the farside crust is thicker, making it harder for molten material from the interior to flow to the surface and form the smooth maria.

Thanks, UrsaRodinia

How long will it be before you lose your job to a robot?


ReshoringMatt Blease

❝ How long will it be before you, too, lose your job to a computer? This question is taken up by a number of recent books, with titles that read like variations on a theme: “The Industries of the Future,” “The Future of the Professions,” “Inventing the Future.” Although the authors of these works are employed in disparate fields — law, finance, political theory — they arrive at more or less the same conclusion. How long? Not long.

❝ “Could another person learn to do your job by studying a detailed record of everything you’ve done in the past?” Martin Ford, a software developer, asks early on in “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future”…“Or could someone become proficient by repeating the tasks you’ve already completed, in the way that a student might take practice tests to prepare for an exam? If so, then there’s a good chance that an algorithm may someday be able to learn to do much, or all, of your job.”

Later, Ford notes, “A computer doesn’t need to replicate the entire spectrum of your intellectual capability in order to displace you from your job; it only needs to do the specific things you are paid to do.”…

❝ The “threat of a jobless future” is, of course, an old one, almost as old as technology…Each new technology displaced a new cast of workers: first knitters, then farmers, then machinists. The world as we know it today is a product of these successive waves of displacement, and of the social and artistic movements they inspired: Romanticism, socialism, progressivism, Communism.

Meanwhile, the global economy kept growing, in large part because of the new machines. As one occupation vanished, another came into being. Employment migrated from farms and mills to factories and offices to cubicles and call centers.

❝ Economic history suggests that this basic pattern will continue, and that the jobs eliminated by Watson and his ilk will be balanced by those created in enterprises yet to be imagined — but not without a good deal of suffering. If nearly half the occupations in the U.S. are “potentially automatable,” and if this could play out within “a decade or two,” then we are looking at economic disruption on an unparalleled scale. Picture the entire Industrial Revolution compressed into the life span of a beagle.

And that’s assuming history repeats itself. What if it doesn’t? What if the jobs of the future are also potentially automatable?

RTFA. Sooner or later this will be key to a national election. In every nation in the industrial world. Probably every nation, industrial or otherwise. Mechanizing most agricultural work doesn’t even require AI.

Cynic that I am I expect the United States to drift into a tidy, tightly-class-structured version of Dicken’s 19th Century industrial England. It will take Socialist-led Scandinavian nations or a later version of China’s morphing Communist-led economy to build inclusive models. American capitalism and American workers will probably continue to elect variations of Trump or Hillary depending more on ad campaigns, sloganeering, than competent economics.

Congressional committee defines encryption backdoors as against national interests


CNET

❝ In a rebuke to the anti-encryption campaign waged by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation — with Apple as a target — the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Encryption Working Group issued a report today stating “any measure that weakens encryption works against the national interest.”

❝ In a bipartisan report, the group observed that “any measure that weakens encryption works against the national interest,” citing representatives of the national security community who noted that “strong encryption is vital to the national defense and to securing vital assets, such as critical infrastructure.”

A second finding of the report was that “encryption technology is a global technology that is widely and increasingly available around the world.” That echoed an earlier study for Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society…

❝ The HJC report further suggested that “Congress should foster cooperation between the law enforcement community and technology companies,” the same suggestion Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook made in asking that the elected representatives of the U.S. Congress work on the issue rather than having it be pushed through under court orders facilitated by the state police, invoking fears of terrorism as a emotional ploy…

❝ FBI director James Comey pursued a charm campaign using FBI press releases to insist that “the San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message,” and subsequently repeated those comments in testimony to the U.S. House Intelligence Committee…

However, Comey has a vast public record of desperately seeking to break encryption. In 2015, Comey unsuccessfully lobbied the Obama administration to press for laws empowering the police to force private companies to break their own encryption products.

Bipartisan reports are rare enough in the crapper called Congress. To have something like this roll out of a committee controlled by the latest degeneration of Republicans is amazing. The clarity and simplicity of the convincing testimony must be outstanding.

Of course, all we now need is for this to be transformed into legislation, agreed upon by both houses of Congress, and arrive on the desk of a president bright enough to understand progress, privacy rights and the gumption to sign the bill over objections from a prick like James Comey.

GM intends to be first out the door with mass-produced autonomous cars


Click to enlargeAll-electric BOLT without autonomous guidance hardware

❝ General Motors will tap into Michigan’s new self-driving car law and Chevy Bolt production to become the first automaker to mass-produce autonomous vehicles.

GM CEO Mary Barra yesterday said the automaker will “immediately” begin testing self-driving Bolts on public roads near the GM Technical Center in the Detroit area. The company expects the first self-driving Bolts to begin rolling off its assembly line in January.

❝ While the automaker already began testing about 40 self-driving Bolts in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Ariz., the Michigan test runs will be much larger, according to Doug Parks, GM’s vice president of autonomous technology and vehicle execution.

GM will be utilizing Michigan’s broad and liberal autonomous vehicle policy – and its severe weather conditions…

A week ago, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation that allows automakers and technology partners to develop, test, and sell autonomous vehicles in the state. That policy goes farther than what other states have enacted – allowing for steering wheels and brake pedals to be removed, permission for companies to offer ride-hailing services with autonomous vehicles, and sales to consumers of self-driving cars that have passed testing and certification.

❝ Autonomous Bolts will be assembled at GM’s plant in Orion Township, Mich. That’s where non-autonomous all-electric Bolts are already being built, along with the Chevy Sonic subcompact car. GM workers will be adding to some of the Bolts cameras, sensors, Lidar, and other autonomous technology that will be tested out…

The GM CEO declined to state when autonomous Bolts will be available for sale to the public. The company did say earlier this year that self-driving Bolts will be used for ride-hailing services through its partnership with Lyft within a few years.

❝ As for non-autonomous Bolts, Chevy dealers began selling them in California and Oregon this week. GM said it will be expanding the market to New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia in early 2017. The Bolt will be sold nationwide around the middle of the year.

This is coming at the American driving public faster than anyone might have imagined. Let’s hear it for fast, cheap CPUs and hotshot coders.