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The Seasteading Institute’s Floating City Project

An emerging area of innovative social, technological and architectural development is seasteading, the research and development of cities, businesses, and other settlements at sea. As the burgeoning population of the world quickly fills the available land mass, our oceans represent the best and most accessible open frontier. The blue frontier is one where forward-thinking individuals and organizations will one day live and work on floating cities, free from spatial, legal, social, economic, political and other land-based constraints.

One of the leading proponents of seasteading is The Seasteading Institute, based in San Francisco. According to their website, the Seasteading Institute’s “role is not to build seasteads ourselves, but to set the stage in order to empower others to do so. Our program therefore focuses on business development, engineering and legal research, political and industry diplomacy and building a community of aspiring seasteaders.”

Currently, The Seasteading Institute is running a crowdfunding campaign on indiegogo for their ongoing Floating City Project. Here’s a video for it:

The proceeds of the indiegogo campaign will fund an engineering study from Dutch “water-based urban development” firm, DeltaSync.

Here’s a BBC video in which seasteading and DeltaSync are featured:

The blue frontier is coming, and it may actually be our first step toward space settlement, as many of the challenges and opportunities of space development require similar holistic frameworks of research, development and innovation. Check out The Seasteading Institute’s site for more information.

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Kirobo: A Man-Machine Interface in Space

Japan has just sent a robot to space in order to provide eventual companionship for human astronaut Kochi Wakata, who will be blasting off for the International Space Station in November. The doll-sized robot, named Kirobo, is from Toyota and is part of an experiment, according to the BBC, in how smart android technology could provide companionship to human beings in the lonely watches of space missions.

Kirobo’s creator, Tomotaka Takahashi, is quoted by the BBC as saying he wishes the robot to “function as a mediator between a person and machine, or a person and the Internet, and sometimes even between people.” Kirobo will apparently bond with Wakata, get to know him, and then somehow serve as his interface with the world around him.

Here’s a video from Toyota on the project:

The project is extremely visionary, but in some sense difficult to understand without experiencing it directly. It’s a relationship, after all, and relationships are tough to appreciate from the outside. Here are the simple questions, though: Is Kirobo’s role that of a chaperone? Or that of a good-time wing-man? Or something else entirely?

It’s also so sci-fi, so let’s look at a couple of relevant vintage sci-fi clips, just for fun:

First, the Disturbing Robot Chaperone Scenario Gone Wrong from 2001: A Space Odyssey:

Second, the Equally Disturbing Good-Time Wing-Man Robot Scenario from the old Buck Rogers TV Series:

All kidding aside, we have finally arrived at a time when humans are going into space with semi-sentient android side-kicks, just as sci-fi predicted we would. It will be interesting to see how the experiment turns out, of course, but I can only imagine that it will be a success. Kirobo is likely to be the first of many companion robots in space.


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Tech Nostalgia: My First Computer

My father was an air-traffic controller and spent 40 years in the FAA before retiring. He liked planes, and used to take me to air shows growing up, but he was also an avid electronics hobbyist. He knew the arcane magic of transitors, resistors, capacitors, and he could read the secret code of all the little colored bands printed on them, so he constructed several of the electronic gadgets in our house from parts or kits. He liked to put these gadgets together, but they were also cheaper than buying off the shelf. My dad was frugal too. He still is.

There was a company called Heathkit that sold a wide range of electronics kits via mail order, and Dad was a regular customer back in the 70s and 80s. I remember well helping him with some of his kit projects, which primarily involved me holding soldering wire steady for what seemed hours, while he mounted each little insectoid part to a green circuit board. True lessons in patience.

For many years, my dad also subscribed to magazines like Popular Electronics and Popular Mechanics, which I also read. In 1982, when I was 13 years old, I saw an ad in the back of Popular Electronics for a $100 computer. It was called a Sinclair ZX81, and it came as a kit. I had some exposure to computers and wanted one, but they were expensive in those days. This ZX81 was right in my dad’s zone: a cheap kit. I knew I could persuade him to buy it for me, and he did.

When the little thing came, we soldered it together, connected it to a cassette player and a black-and-white TV I had, and I entered the computing age.

I still have this ZX81, its accessories, literature, software and ephemera. My dad saved it all for me in the same box the computer originally shipped in. He had squirreled it away when I went off to college, marriage, fatherhood, etc. He sent it back to me recently, and it’s like a little time capsule.

Here are a few photos of my ZX81 and accessories (taken just now with my iPhone, so they’re a little dodgy):

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I still have Dad’s receipt, pictured below. I’ve blotted out address and credit card number, though I assume Dad doesn’t still have the same credit card number as he did then (expiration 07/82). The computer kit was shipped from Sinclair Research in Nashua, NH, although the back of the case assures me it was made in England, the home of Sinclair.

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Total cost = $104.90 and an afternoon of assembly. Sweet deal.

Then, as now, you had to buy stuff for your computer. The ZX81 came with 1k in RAM, so to do anything useful you had to buy a 16k RAM expander, which I bought later (note the Timex brand; Timex sold Sinclair products later in the US). The games pictured below, by the way, were awesome.

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But the real fun of the ZX81 was learning to make your own stuff, learning to code. It came with a manual for its version of Basic, along with a shorter quicker guide. In the time capsule, my dad saved the code for a bunch of little games and programs I had written out on legal pads. The picture below shows the Basic for “Car Racing Game.” Not a very catchy title, but hey, I was 13.

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So we’ve come a long way technologically in 30 years. It’s a trivial point, yes, but I think looking at artifacts like the ZX81 really brings it home. The MacBook Pro I’m writing this blog on is probably further away from the ZX81 than the ZX81 was from ENIAC. Right now, by the way, my 10-year-old son is on his own MacBook Pro (his first computer), wreaking virtual havoc on some multiplayer Minecraft server. Thirty years hence, who knows what he’ll be “computing” with?


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Private Space Spotlight: Space Adventures

Virginia-based Space Adventures has been around since 1998 and has already posted some meaningful accomplishments along the evolutionary path to a future of private space travel. The company promotes and works actively on early-stage space tourism, and according to their site, they “are the first and only company to have sent self-funded individuals to space. [Their] clients have cumulatively spent close to three months in space and traveled over 36 million miles.”

Some of Space Adventures’ recent projects include partnering with Boeing on the new CST-100 space capsule (pictured below), which is being designed to ferry astronauts (and tourists) to the International Space Station.

Here’s the interior:

Here’s the exterior:

Cool stuff.

As we move rapidly toward private space travel, it’s not difficult to imagine the possibilities for private individuals. As with any early-stage techno-economic ecosystem, the costs and prices are high now, open only to early adopters, and the industry players are few and small, but there is so much momentum that private space travel is not a matter of “if” but rather of “when.”

If you’re into space, it’s worth checking out Space Adventures. I’ll leave you with a video in which the company’s Chairman and CEO, Eric Anderson, talks about going to the moon.


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Google Appears to Move Toward an Internet of Things Strategy

A recent piece on Quartz quotes Google exec Sundar Pichai saying the company’s goal is to “put computing everywhere,” suggesting that the company is moving from its legacy position as the organizer of “the world’s information” to a new ubiquitous-computing position in which it provides the operating system for the coming Internet of Things. Having been on something of an OS and hardware journey since developing the Android phone OS and now the Google Glass, it seems a logical and prescient extension for a company with such a global vision and the proven ability to conceptually grasp and then shape massive connected territory (e.g., the internet itself).

I wrote some time back about the relationship between Google’s model and the psychogeography of data, my thesis being that the company itself has both the vision and power to shape the world, and the power that it wields is directly connected to psychogeography, or rather “psychogeoengineering.” Here were my key points:

1) The web is nothing more than the first iteration of a future world that is pure datasphere. We will all live in that world. It will shape us. It will teach us. It will define what is possible and what is not. It’s already happening, but it’s just begun.

2) Page Rank and algorithms like it will be primary forces of nature that will do nothing less than shape and define the world we live in. And who we are, what we can be. It’s already happening, but it’s just begun.

3) Specifically, the search engine scuplts the psychogeography of the datasphere in which we all live. By favoring some data, and starving off others, Google and things like Google passively and actively delimit what data exists in the world, according to their own logic and judgment, and thereby (I repeat) define the world we live in, shape what we can think and who we can be.

4) And thus, Google is nothing less than a kind of demiurge cartographer of a living world of data: they are mapping (and through mapping, creating) our digital world for us. They are creating/mapping our intellectual, social and cultural possibilities, no less, and it’s no surprise that they long ago set about to map (or re-map) the physical world too. It’s all the same project of psychogeographic engineering.

So, now I add this, and I don’t know why I didn’t draw it out then:

5) The convergence of data and smart technology with ubiquitous computing, and thus the Internet of Things, will not only give Google the ability to remap the world virtually, but also in a very real, physical, experiential way. By putting computing into everything, and linking everything, plugging it all into the datasphere, Google will potentially be able to monitor and influence every built environment in the world, as well as your individual possibilities within it.

Such potential power, if realized, is unprecedented. It’s the physical world become datasphere, and the datasphere made physical, powered, monitored and defined by Google and things like Google.

I may be overstating things, so please comment if you think I am, but Google thinks big, their actions follow their vision, and we should all do what we can to understand the world they wish to create, because we may soon find ourselves living in it.