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  • Interviews: David Saltzberg Answers Your Questions About The Big Bang Theory

    As the science consultant for The Big Bang Theory for the past seven seasons, Dr. David Saltzberg makes sure the show gets its science right. A few weeks ago, you had the chance to ask him about his work on the show and his personal scientific endeavors. Below you'll find his answers to those questions.

    64 comments | 9 hours ago

  • Developing the First Law of Robotics

    wabrandsma sends this article from New Scientist: In an experiment, Alan Winfield and his colleagues programmed a robot to prevent other automatons – acting as proxies for humans – from falling into a hole. This is a simplified version of Isaac Asimov's fictional First Law of Robotics – a robot must not allow a human being to come to harm. At first, the robot was successful in its task. As a human proxy moved towards the hole, the robot rushed in to push it out of the path of danger. But when the team added a second human proxy rolling toward the hole at the same time, the robot was forced to choose. Sometimes, it managed to save one human while letting the other perish; a few times it even managed to save both. But in 14 out of 33 trials, the robot wasted so much time fretting over its decision that both humans fell into the hole. Winfield describes his robot as an "ethical zombie" that has no choice but to behave as it does. Though it may save others according to a programmed code of conduct, it doesn't understand the reasoning behind its actions.

    158 comments | yesterday

  • Sci-Fi Authors and Scientists Predict an Optimistic Future

    An anonymous reader writes: A few years ago, author Neal Stephenson argued that sci-fi had forgotten how to inspire people to do great things. Indeed, much of recent science fiction has been pessimistic and skeptical, focusing on all the ways our inventions could go wrong, and how hostile the universe is to humankind. Now, a group of scientists, engineers, and authors (including Stephenson himself) is trying to change that. Arizona State University recently launched Project Hieroglyph, a hub for ideas that will influence science fiction to be more optimistic and accurate, and to focus on the great things humanity is capable of doing.

    For example, in the development of a short story, Stephenson wanted to know if it's possible to build a tower that's 20 kilometers tall. Keith Hjelmsad, an expert in structural stability and computational mechanics, wrote a detailed response about the challenge involved in building such a tower. Other authors are contributing questions as well, and researchers are chiming in with fascinating, science-based replies. Roboticist Srikanth Saripalli makes this interesting point: "If the government has to decide what to fund and what not to fund, they are going to get their ideas and decisions mostly from science fiction rather than what's being published in technical papers."

    186 comments | 2 days ago

  • Original 11' Star Trek Enterprise Model Being Restored Again

    NormalVisual (565491) writes The original 11-foot U.S.S. Enterprise studio model from the original series has gone back into the shop again. The Smithsonian owns the model and has had it on display in a gift shop at the National Air and Space Museum for the last 13 years, but will be placed on display in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall in 2016, to coincide with the museum's 40th anniversary. In the meantime, the model will be undergoing its fourth restoration to address a number of issues. The last restoration in 1991 was performed by Ed Miarecki, a professional modelmaker well known for his work in "Star Trek: The Next Generation", as well as films such as "Event Horizon". This previous restoration had Trek fans up in arms owing to the paint job, which many feel doesn't represent the way the model looked originally. Hopefully this next restoration will bring her back to her former glory.

    96 comments | 3 days ago

  • The Future According To Stanislaw Lem

    An anonymous reader writes "The Paris Review has an article about SF author Stanislaw Lem, explaining Lem's outlook on the future and his expectations for technological advancement. Lem tended toward a view that technology would infect and eventually supplant biological evolution. But he also suggested an interesting explanation for why we haven't detected alien civilizations: "Perhaps ... they are so taken up with perfecting their own organisms that they've abandoned space exploration entirely. According to a similar hypothesis, such beings are invisible because technological ease has resulted in a 'Second Stone Age' of 'universal illiteracy and idleness.' When everyone's needs are perfectly met, it 'would be hard, indeed, to find one individual who would choose as his life's work the signaling, on a cosmic scale, of how he was getting along.' Rather than constructing Dyson Spheres, Lem suggests, advanced civilizations are more likely to spend their time getting high.""

    195 comments | 4 days ago

  • BBC and FACT Shut Down Doctor Who Fansite

    An anonymous reader writes with this report from Torrentfreak, excerpting: In just a few hours time the brand new season of Doctor Who will premiere, kicking off with the first episode 'Deep Breath'. There's been a huge build up in the media, but for fans who prefer to socialize and obtain news via a dedicated community, today brings bad news. Doctor Who Media (DWM) was a site created in 2010 and during the ensuing four and a half years it amassed around 25,000 dedicated members. A source close to the site told TF that since nothing like it existed officially, DWM's core focus was to provide a central location and community for everything in the 'Whoniverse,' from reconstructions of missing episodes to the latest episodes, and whatever lay between. But yesterday, following a visit by representatives from the BBC and Federation Against Copyright Theft, the site's operator took the decision to shut down the site for good.

    186 comments | about three weeks ago

  • The 2014 Hugo Awards

    Dave Knott writes: WorldCon 2014 wrapped up in London this last weekend and this year's Hugo Award winners were announced. Notable award winners include:

    Best Novel: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
    Best Novelette: "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" by Mary Robinette Kowal
    Best Novella: "Equoid" by Charles Stross
    Best Short Story: "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" by John Chu
    Best Graphic Story: "Time" by Randall Munroe
    Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón
    Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): Game of Thrones: "The Rains of Castamere" written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter

    The results of this year's awards were awaited with some some trepidation in the SF community, due to well-documented attempts by some controversial authors to game the voting system. These tactics appear to have been largely unsuccessful, as this is the fourth major award for the Leckie novel, which had already won the 2013 BSFA, 2013 Nebula and 2014 Clarke awards.

    180 comments | about a month ago

  • If Fusion Is the Answer, We Need To Do It Quickly

    Lasrick writes: Yale's Jason Parisi makes a compelling case for fusion power, and explains why fusion is cleaner, safer, and doesn't provide opportunities for nuclear smuggling and proliferation. The only downside will be the transition period, when there are both fission and fusion plants available and the small amount of "booster" elements (tritium and deuterium) found in fusion power could provide would-be proliferators what they need to boost the yield of fission bombs: "The period during which both fission and fusion plants coexist could be dangerous, however. Just a few grams of deuterium and tritium are needed to increase the yield of a fission bomb, in a process known as 'boosting.'" Details about current research into fusion power and an exploration of relative costs make fusion power seem like the answer to a civilization trying to get away from fossil fuels.

    305 comments | about a month ago

  • Babylon 5 May Finally Get a Big-Screen Debut

    Ars Technica reports that "J. Michael Straczynski will shortly begin work on a rebooted big-screen version of his 1990s sci-fi TV series [ Babylon 5]." From the article: According to JMS's latest announcement, the new script will be targeted at a 2016 theatrical release and will be a reboot of the series rather than a continuation. This is necessary for both dramatic and practical purposes—the series was in regular production from 1994-1998, and the cast has simply aged too far to credibly play themselves again during the series’ main timeline. Additionally, several of the foundational cast members — Michael O'Hare, Andreas Katsulas, Richard Biggs, and Jeff Conaway — have passed away. ... The movie rights to the Babylon 5 property remain in JMS's hands, but the creator is hopeful that this time around, Warner Bros. will choose to finance the film instead of passing on it. Nonetheless (at least according to TV Wise), JMS is prepared to fund the movie through his own production company if necessary — something that wasn't a possibility ten years ago — suggesting that B5 will in fact come to the big screen at last.

    252 comments | about a month ago

  • Old School Sci-fi Short Starring Keir Dullea Utilizes Classic Effects

    New submitter Wierzbowski85 (2852925) writes Indie Kickstarter-funded sci-fi short HENRi features classic visual effects and storytelling – with a twist. As detailed in Cinefex magazine (issue 134), the film itself utilizes a mixture of the old and the new — combining live-action sequences with puppetry, quarter-scale miniatures, and modern CGI. Speaking with Wired, the film's director said: "The goal was to seamlessly integrate these different techniques to create the world. My philosophy is that effects are merely a tool to help the story, and that in mind, we used pretty much every trick in the book." The film also stars genre legend Keir Dullea, of 2001: A Space Odyssey. In a making-of video for the film, Dullea says, "Having done 2001, [HENRi] was a wonderful homage to Stanley Kubrick and that film." The short is now available for free viewing online at Hulu.

    91 comments | about a month ago

  • Ridley Scott to Produce Philip K Dick's The Man In the High Castle

    hawkinspeter (831501) writes Amazon has given the green light to produce the Hugo award-winning "The Man in the High Castle". This is after the four-hour mini-series was rejected by Syfy and afterwards by the BBC. Philip K Dick's novel takes place in an alternate universe where the Axis Powers won the Second World War. It's one of his most successful works, probably due to him actually spending the time to do some editing on it (most of his fiction was produced rapidly in order to get some money). Ridley Scott has previously adapted PKD's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" as the film Blade Runner, so it will be interesting to see how close he keeps to the source material this time. This news has been picked up by a few sites: International Business Times; The Register and Deadline.

    144 comments | about a month and a half ago

  • Nightfall: Can Kalgash Exist?

    First time accepted submitter jIyajbe (662197) writes Two researchers from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics investigate the imaginary world of Kalgash, a planetary system based on the novel 'Nightfall' (Asimov & Silverberg, 1991). From the arXiv paper: "The system consists of a planet, a moon and an astonishing six suns. The six stars cause the wider universe to be invisible to the inhabitants of the planet. The author explores the consequences of an eclipse and the resulting darkness which the Kalgash people experience for the first time. Our task is to verify if this system is feasible, from the duration of the eclipse, the 'invisibility' of the universe to the complex orbital dynamics." Their conclusion? "We have explored several aspects of Asimov's novel. We have found that the suns, especially Dovim are bright enough to blot out the stars. Kalgash 2 can eclipse Dovim for a period of 9 hours. We also tested one possible star configuration and after running some simulations, we found that the system is possible for short periods of time."

    86 comments | about 2 months ago

  • HUGO Winning Author Daniel Keyes Has Died

    camperdave writes Author Daniel Keyes has died at 86. Keyes is best known for his Hugo Award winning classic SF story Flowers for Algernon and the film version Charly. Keyes was born August 9, 1927 in New York. He worked variously as an editor, comics writer, fashion photographer, and teacher before joining the faculty of Ohio University in 1966, where he taught as a professor of English and creative writing, becoming professor emeritus in 2000. He married Aurea Georgina Vaquez in 1952, who predeceased him in 2013; they had two daughters.

    66 comments | about 3 months ago

  • The Sci-Fi Myth of Killer Machines

    malachiorion writes: "Remember when, about a month ago, Stephen Hawking warned that artificial intelligence could destroy all humans? It wasn't because of some stunning breakthrough in AI or robotics research. It was because the Johnny Depp-starring Transcendence was coming out. Or, more to the point, it's because science fiction's first robots were evil, and even the most brilliant minds can't talk about modern robotics without drawing from SF creation myths. This article on the biggest sci-fi-inspired myths of robotics focuses on R.U.R, Skynet, and the ongoing impact of allowing make-believe villains to pollute our discussion of actual automated systems."

    222 comments | about 3 months ago

  • The Singularity Is Sci-Fi's Faith-Based Initiative

    malachiorion writes: "Is machine sentience not only possible, but inevitable? Of course not. But don't tell that to devotees of the Singularity, a theory that sounds like science, but is really just science fiction repackaged as secular prophecy. I'm not simply arguing that the Singularity is stupid — people much smarter than me have covered that territory. But as part of my series of stories for Popular Science about the major myths of robotics, I try to point out the Singularity's inescapable sci-fi roots. It was popularized by a SF writer, in a paper that cites SF stories as examples of its potential impact, and, ultimately, it only makes sense when you apply copious amounts of SF handwavery. The article explains why SF has trained us to believe that artificial general intelligence (and everything that follows) is our destiny, but we shouldn't confuse an end-times fantasy with anything resembling science."

    339 comments | about 4 months ago

  • Ask Slashdot: Can Star Wars Episode VII Be Saved?

    An anonymous reader writes "10 years ago today, in the wake of two disappointing Star Wars prequels, we discussed whether Episode III could salvage itself or the series. Now, as production is underway on Episode VII under the care of Disney, I was wondering the same thing: can it return Star Wars to its former glory? On one hand, many critics of the prequels have gotten what they wanted — George Lucas has a reduced role in the production of Episode VII. Critically, he didn't write the screenplay, which goes a long way toward avoiding the incredibly awkward dialogue of the prequels. On the other hand, they're actively breaking with the expanded universe canon, and the series is now under the stewardship of J.J. Abrams. His treatment of the Star Trek reboot garnered lots of praise and lots of criticism — but his directorial style is arguably more suited to Star Wars anyway. What do you think? What can they do with Episode VII to put the series back on track?"

    403 comments | about 4 months ago

  • The Sci-Fi Myth of Robotic Competence

    malachiorion writes: "When it comes to robots, most of us are a bunch of Jon Snow know-nothings. With the exception of roboticists, everything we assume we know is based on science fiction, which has no reason to be accurate about its iconic heroes and villains, or journalists, who are addicted to SF references, jokes and tropes. That's my conclusion, at least, after a story I wrote Popular Science got some attention—it asked whether a robotic car should kill its owner, if it means saving two strangers. The most common dismissals of the piece claimed that robo-cars should simply follow Asimov's First Law, or that robo-cars would never crash into each other. These perspectives are more than wrong-headed—they ignore the inherent complexity and fallibility of real robots, for whom failure is inevitable. Here's my follow-up story, about why most of our discussion of robots is based on make-believe, starting with the myth of robotic hyper-competence."

    255 comments | about 4 months ago

  • Understanding an AI's Timescale

    An anonymous reader writes "It's a common trope in sci-fi that when AIs become complex enough to have some form of consciousness, humans will be able to communicate with them through speech. But the rate at which we transmit and analyze data is infinitesimal compared to how fast a computer can do it. Would they even want to bother? Jeff Atwood takes a look at how a computer's timescale breaks down, and relates it to human timeframes. It's interesting to note the huge variance in latency. If we consider one CPU cycle to take 1 second, then a sending a ping across the U.S. would take the equivalent of 4 years. A simple conversation could take the equivalent of thousands of years. Would any consciousness be able to deal with such a relative delay?"

    189 comments | about 4 months ago

  • H.R. Giger, Alien Artist and Designer, Dead at Age 74

    M3.14 writes: "H. R. Giger, the Swiss artist and designer of Ridley Scott's Alien, has died, aged 74. Hans Rudolf 'Ruedi' Giger sustained injuries caused by a fall, Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung has reported (link in German — English summary available). The terrifying creature and sets he created for Ridley Scott's film earned him an Oscar for special effects in 1980. In the art world, Giger is appreciated for his wide body of work in the fantastic realism and surrealistic genres. Film work was just one of his talents. Giger is also known for his sculptures, paintings and furniture. The H.R. Giger Museum, inaugurated in the summer of 1998 in the Château St. Germain, is a four-level building complex in the historic, medieval walled city of Gruyères. It is the permanent home to many of the artist's most prominent works."

    92 comments | about 4 months ago

  • Study: Earthlings Not Ready For Alien Encounters, Yet

    astroengine (1577233) writes "The people of planet Earth would be wise to raise their cosmic consciousness prior to contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, a new study shows. 'The scientific community now accepts to some degree that this contact may occur in the next 50 to 100 years,' said Gabriel De la Torre, a clinical neuropsychologist and human factors specialist at the University of Cádiz in Spain. 'Consequently, we are becoming more concerned about this possibility and its aftermath Certainly the topic of contact with extraterrestrial civilizations raises a number of questions that are not easy to answer. We estimate that this type of event will have not only a social effect, but also on both consciousness and biology as well.' Although we may not have the necessary social skill set to deal with an encounter of the third kind, scientists or astronauts might make the best candidates for the first alien conversation."

    453 comments | about 4 months ago

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