Strong AI, and back to the moon…

Rory wrote a post about strong
AI and whether we should spend money there rather than going back to the moon
I started writing a comment for his blog, but then decided to write my own entry.

I don’t know if you were around during the 80’s, but there was a big push towards
AI during that decade. The buzz was that the Japanese were going to “eat our shorts”
(though I’m fairly sure that phrase was yet to be invented) in this area.

There was a lot of money spent there (perhaps not $15B, but my guess is that it might
have been $1B), but very little result.

I think it’s because AI is just a very difficult problem.

To comment on the space side, scientific exploration aside, I think the best goal
to push for is solar power satellites. There are some PR issues (with microwaves),
but the technology is well understood, and once they were there, using them as a source
of power would have very little environmental side effects (though waste heat would
still seem to be an issue). I don’t see how the developing countries can become developed
without huge increases in total energy consumption, and the only other reasonable
option is nuclear. Nuclear has very low environmental impact and is cheap enough if
done well (and we know how to do it well, though we haven’t yet), but is a very hard
political sell, both from the “no nukes” perspective and the prospect of further nuclear
proliferation. On the other hand, if a country like China (which already has nukes)
wants to build reactors, I think we should do our best to help them build good ones
(like this or this),
and we should consider whether we can make a reactor proliferation proof. But, back
to the space topic…

Indirectly, I do think that building SPSs makes an argument for going back to the
moon. The big problem with SPSs is the huge expense in building them. The issues are:

  1. Photovoltaics are expensive
  2. Launch costs are astronomical (pun intended).

There are starting to be some approaches to #1 that may yield lower cost cells, but
they aren’t quite there yet. You could use something else for #1 (like a solar furnace),
but that seems more finicky to me.

The second problem is harder to solve. You can like get a 10x reduction over current
expendables if you go simple and you launch all the time. You might get a lot more
with a space elevator (assuming that you can truly build one). But the simplest way
is to not lift from the earth, but to mine lunar materials, and build the SPS components
either on the lunar surface or in space.

Problems? Well, you would have high-tech with people in an extremely remote and expensive
place to get to. That would require some very smart planning.

Comments (7)

  1. Kevin Daly says:

    In the current mood of international trust and brotherhood, you might have a serious job persuading anyone that power satellites were not a weapon :-)
    For those of us who believe in the expansion of the human race in the solar system and beyond, the Moon is important as a beachhead…it may seem like an extravagance but it’s cheap compared with spending billions to drop bombs on strangers, and I’m now convinced that we won’t go anywhere unless we establish a human presence on the Moon first. It provides a vital testing ground for technologies and techniques, and is also a valuable waypoint and staging ground in a way that the pathetic little undernourished ISS is not.
    But don’t try it alone, try and get the Russians and the Chinese and the Indians on board as well (the last 2 are going anyway).
    And we HAVE to go…because sooner or later we’re going to need access to the asteroid belt and Mars. The human race can’t afford to spend too much more time sitting staring at its navel and soiling its pants. The smell is becoming noticeable.

  2. Rory says:

    "I think it’s because AI is just a very difficult problem."

    In the small (read: *uber* small) amount of literature I’ve read on the subject, this is the somewhat depressing conclusion I’ve come to.

    I was just Star Trek dreaming out loud when I wrote that post :) It actually does keep me awake at night sometimes, thinking about how incredibly cool a world with true AI would be.

    I think we’re all fortunate to be living when technology is really getting its foothold on this planet, but sometimes I wish I could just nod off for a few thousand years, wake up, and check things out (provided we don’t just toast each other into oblivion before those few thousand years pass).

    "But the simplest way is to not lift from the earth, but to mine lunar materials, and build the SPS components either on the lunar surface or in space."

    I buy this, but my skepticism about a moon mission had to do with the idea of it being a PR move more than anything else.

    I just don’t want to think about money being spent to play golf on the moon again.

    Still though, if the end result were, even unintentionally, progress, then there’s nothing wrong with that.

  3. damien morton says:

    I agree with the previous poster about SPS being weapons. Picture a hostile entity in control of an SPS constelation and you will see what I mean.

    Also, I dont really see the value of orbital solar power beamed down to earth via microwaves, as compared to terrestrial solar power arrays piping power via wires. The former requires a huge jump in technology and massive investment, wheras the later merely requires a massive investment. I would hazard a guess that orbital power would require an investment an order of maginitude more than terrestrial power.

    If we want to go into orbit, or to the moon, lets do that, but lets not gussy it up with dreams of orbital microwave power.

  4. MBA says:

    Helpful For MBA Fans.