posted by Keito
9 Overlooked Technologies That Could Transform The World
posted by Keito
2012-09-18 20:29:25'We live in an era of accelerating change. Technology is changing and innovating faster than most of us can keep up. And at the same time, it's easy to get so caught up in shiny visions of the future, and not notice the astounding things that are happening in science and technology today. So the next time people ask you where the future went, tell them it's already here.
Here are nine underrated or overlooked technologies that could transform the world before you know it.
1. Cheap and fast DNA sequencing
Most of us know about DNA sequencing — but you probably don't realize just how fast and cheap it's getting. In fact, some experts suggest that it's following along a Moore's Law of its own. As Adrienne Burke has pointed out, the speed of genome sequencing has better than doubled every two years since 2003 — back at a time when it cost $3.8 billion (i.e. the Human Genome Project). Today, thanks to advances in such things as nucleic acid chemistry and detection, a company like Life Technologies can process DNA on a semiconductor chip at a cost of $1,000 per genome. Other companies can sequence an entire genome in one single day. And the implications are significant, including the advent of highly personalized medicine in which drugs can be developed to treat your specific genome. Say goodbye to one-size-fits-all medicine.
2. Digital currency
The idea of digital currency is slowing starting to make the rounds, including the potential for Bitcoin, but what many of us don't realize is that's it's here to stay. Sure, it's had a rough start, but once established and disseminated, electronic cash will allow for efficient and convenient online exchanges — and all without the need for those pesky banks. Despite the obvious need for a distributed digital currency protocol, the adoption rate has been relatively slow. Barriers to entry include availability (it's in limited supply), the cryptography problem (the public still needs to be assured that it's secure), the establishment of a recognized and trustworthy dispute system (sensing some opportunities here), and user confidence (a problem similar to the one that emerged when paper money first emerged).
Back in 1971, University of California at Berkeley professor Leon Chua predicted a revolution in electrical circuits — and his vision has finally come true. Traditionally, circuits are constructed with capacitors, resistors, and inductors. But Chua speculated that there could be a fourth component, what he called the memristor (short for memory resistor). What sets this technological innovation apart is that, unlike a resistor, it can "remember" charges even after power is lost. As a result, this would allow the memristor to store information. This has given rise to the suggestion that it could eventually become a part of computer memory — including non-volatile solid-state memory with significantly greater densities than traditional hard drives (as much as one petabit per cm3). The first memristor was developed in May 2008 by HP, who plan on having a commercial version available by the end of 2014. And aside from memory storage, memristors could prove useful in signal processing, neural networks, and brain-computer interfaces.
4. Robots that can do crazy futuristic stuff
Today we have robots that can self-replicate, re-assemble after being kicked apart, shape-shift, swarm, create emergent effects, build other robots, slither like a snake, jump to the tops of buildings, walk like a pack mule, and run faster than a human. They even have their own internet. Put it all together and you realize that we're in the midst of a robotic revolution that's poised to change virtually everything.
5. Waste to biofuels
Imagine being able to turn all our garbage into something useful like fuel. Oh wait, we can do that. It's called "energy recovery from waste" — a process that typically involves the production of electricity or biofuels (like methane, methanol, ethanol or synthetic fuels) by burning it. Cities like Edmonton, Alberta are already doing it — and they're scaling up. By next year, Edmonton's Waste-to-Biofuels Facility will convert more than 100,000 tons of municipal solid waste into 38 million litres of biofuels annually. Moreover, their waste-based biofuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 60% compared to gasoline. This largely overlooked revolution is turning garbage (including plastic) into a precious resource. Already today, Sweden is importing waste from its European neighbors to fuel its garbage-to-energy program.
6. Gene therapy
Though we're in the midst of the biotechnology revolution, our attention tends to get focused on such things as stem cells, tissue engineering, genome mapping, and new pharmaceuticals. What's often lost in the discussion is the fact that we already have the ability to go directly into our DNA and swap genes at will. We can essentially trade bad genes for good, allowing us to treat or prevent diseases (such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis) — interventions that don't require drugs or surgery. And just as significantly, gene therapy could eventually give rise genetic enhancements (like increased memory or intelligence) and life extension therapies. Gattaca is already here, it just hasn't been distributed yet.
7. RNA interference
The discovery of RNA interference (RNAi) was considered so monumental that it won Andrew Fire and Craig C. Mello the Nobel Prize back in 2006. Similar to gene therapy, RNA interference allows biologists to manipulate the functions of genes. It works by using cells to shut-off or turn down the activity of specific genes, and it does this by destroying or disrupting messenger molecules (for example by preventing mRNA from producing a protein). Today, RNAi is being used in thousands of labs. It's becoming an indispensable research tool (to create novel cell cultures), it has inspired the creation of algorithms in computational biology studies, and it holds tremendous potential for the treatment of diseases like cancer and Lou Gehrig's disease.
8. Organic electronics
Traditionally, our visions of cybernetics and the cyborg is one in which natural, organic parts have been replaced with mechanical devices or prostheses. The notion of a half-human, half-machine has very much become ingrained in our thinking — but it's likely wrong. Thanks to the rise of the nascent field of organic electronics, it's more likely that we'll rework the body's biological systems and introduce new organic components altogether. Already today, scientists have engineered cyborg tissue that can sense its environment. Other researchers have invented chemical circuits that can channel neurotransmitters instead of electric voltages. And as Mark Changizi has suggested, future humans will continue to harness the powers of their biological constitutions and engage in what Stanislas Dehaene calls neuronal recycling.
9. Concentrated solar power
A recent innovation in solar power technology is starting to take the world by storm, though few talk about it. It's called concentrated solar power (CSP), and it's a massively distributed system for extracting solar energy with mirrors and lenses. It works by focusing the incoming sunlight into a highly concentrated area. The result is a highly scalable and efficient energy source that is allowing for gigawatt sized solar power plants. Another similar technology, what's called concentrated photovoltaics, results in concentrated sunlight being converted to heat, which in turn gets converted to electricity. CPV plants will not only solve much of the world's energy needs, it will also double as a desalination station.
Google's Self-Driving Car Test: Steve Mahan
posted by Keito
2012-09-02 09:53:36This technology can't go mainstream soon enough. Ease congestion, limit accidents, safer roads, less stress, personal taxi service.
Neal Stephenson interview: Kickstarter, swordfighting, and the big novel's staying power
posted by Keito
2012-08-22 21:38:34'The first line in any story about Neal Stephenson will reference his massive, massively complicated, and massively successful novels. And for good reason. In Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, The Baroque Cycle, and others, the author has written genre-defining (and genre-busting) fiction. But Stephenson is more than a novelist; he's also a thinker and a doer.
Two recent projects exemplify these qualities. Some Remarks, a remarkable collection of essays, interviews, a brief work of fiction, and a single new piece, finds Stephenson delving into his archives – something he rarely does – to highlight older pieces that tackle the topics of today: the coolness of geeks, the relevance of science fiction, the ambition of politicians. One of his other current endeavors is CLANG, a video game that hopes to reinvent a longtime Stephenson obsession, swordfighting interfaces. In a sprawling interview with The Verge, the author offered up some of his many plans and thoughts, including a new “research-heavy” novel, his trouble with Twitter, and why Kickstarter might be superior to venture capital.
You seem like you're constantly working on different projects. You're writing in the morning and tinkering in the afternoon. Now you have CLANG, which just raised more than $500,000 in a Kickstarter campaign. How do you keep it all straight? Is it a product of your personality that you're doing so many different things?
The last year or so, since I finished REAMDE, I've been working on some projects so I haven't been doing a lot of writing. That changed now because I'm under contract to write a book so I have to refocus things and get back to work. When I am in that normal work mode, it's pretty simple. I get up, eat breakfast, write for a couple of hours, and then I have to go do something else to get my mind off it. That something else can be a lot of different things, but it's usually something more of a geeky, technical nature.
Can you talk about the book you're working on now?
I'm not ready to say much about it.
You're just at the beginning stage?
You write about things that interest you. Are you surprised by the level of success you've achieved doing so?
I am. I was sort of oblivious to what was going on about 20 years ago when Snow Crash came out. I was aware that it was doing better than my previous books had done but that was it. It was a slow building book because it wasn't launched with a huge book tour or lots of publicity. It was more viral, I guess. It took a little while for it to become clear that it was going to be a game-changer careerwise.
How much research do you do before you start writing a book?
This one is going to be comparatively research heavy. There will certainly be a few months where it's almost all research and little to no writing. But I think it's healthy to bring writing some kernel of story pretty early in the process because that immediately focuses the research effort. As soon as you start doing that, you can prune off a whole lot of unnecessary research that might have been done if you were taking a shotgun approach to it.
I can only imagine what this is going to be if you're describing it as "research-heavy."
Compared to REAMDE, which I had to travel for but it wasn't research-heavy in the sense of familiarizing myself with a different historical period or anything like that.
Some Remarks is an anthology of sorts. Do you go back and read your older work on a regular basis at all?
Never. I absolutely never read any of my stuff once it's published.
Was Some Remarks your idea or someone else's, and how did you decide what you wanted to include in the book?
It was suggested to me that it might be time to do this. I rely on people who know more about the publishing industry to tell me when it is time to do this sort of thing. They said it was, so we went around to scrounge up all the old stuff. It took awhile to remember all the pieces because a lot of them have fallen through the cracks. We slowly put together a list of everything that I've published. Some of them seemed palatable. Some of them just didn't make the cut. Some of them needed to be cut down and excerpted because they were really choppy. We put the book together that way, and I wrote a new piece about walking while you work.
Was going back through your work an interesting or fun process, or was it more a thing you had to do?
I think it's more a thing I had to do. I mean, it's not about me. [Laughs] We're trying to put something together that the readers would enjoy. I hope that people will enjoy finding all this stuff in one place, browsing through it, and reading the bits they want. In general, I'm always a little superstitious about going back and devoting too much attention to older material. On some level, I suspect I'm like a shark: If I stop swimming I'll suffocate.
CLANG hit its Kickstarter goal of $500,000. What was your reaction when you put the project up and throughout the process?
It was fascinating. The part I didn't anticipate was the level of interactivity that was going to be involved. If the thing had just completely failed, then that would not have been the case. If it had blown through its target right away the way some of these things do, it wouldn't have been the case either. But when you're slowly building towards the goal and you don't know whether you're going to hit the goal or not, you end up paying a lot of attention to the thing and kind of gardening it. You're interacting with the community of donors quite a bit, trying to figure out what works, and answering questions. It ended up being a full-time job during those 30 days to try to keep it moving and find ways to push it over the finish line.
I thought it was really interesting that in the Kickstarter video you said something along the lines of, 'We're just using me as the figurehead to help the promotion but the gamemaking will be handled by professionals.' You were so upfront and honest about lending your starpower, for lack of a better term, to the project.
I think the process forces total honesty and full disclosure. In order to make this work, we needed to make a case that would pass muster with people who are very sophisticated about games and how games are developed. Anybody who knows anything about developing video games knows that it's a very significant engineering challenge. It would make us look foolish to have a novelist, even if I am a geeky novelist, asking for money to make a game. Everybody would know to some level that that's not real. Our approach was to tell it like it is all the way through and let the chips fall where they may in terms of whether people wanted to fund it or not. In the end, it worked, and we were able to make it work without committing to stuff that we wouldn't be able to deliver.
Did people say they had heard about the project because you were involved, but they wanted to know how your group as a whole was going to pull it off?
Well, that's obvious. We don't need to hear from people to know that. A lot of the feedback that we got was clearly from intelligent, skeptical people who were in effect doing a kind of due diligence. When you raise money the old fashioned way – through a VC or whatever – there's a due diligence process there, which can be pretty thorough. Looking at the Kickstarter process, you might think that it's people throwing their money away, but I believe that the community there does a better job of actual due diligence than actual private investors might.
I was just reading an article about Curt Schilling, who burned through some number of millions of dollars trying to make a video game. If a geek novelist has no chance to make one, I can't imagine a baseball player would.
I read about that. I have no idea what their failure mode was, but we figured that the best way to avoid a big failure like that was to pick a very small kernel. To pick a narrow goal and keep it narrow. We heard from a lot of would-be donors who said, "If you make it run on such and such operating system, if you make it work with the hardware that I have, or if you include my favorite weapon, I'll donate more money. It would have been very easy for us to say, "Oh sure, we'll do that." It would have gotten us to the goal sooner, but we would have made a bunch of promises that we wouldn't have been able to keep. Instead, we said we were only going to do one thing, take it or leave it, and that worked. If we can do what we said we were going to do, maybe we can go back to the well later and raise another round. For me, this way is a much saner and more comfortable project than raising a vast amount of money from someone and then trying to execute on an incredibly big and complicated project.
In a World Policy essay you wrote the following: "'You're the ones who've been slacking off!' proclaims Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University (and one of the other speakers at Future Tense). He refers, of course, to SF writers. The scientists and engineers, he seems to be saying, are ready and looking for things to do. Time for the SF writers to start pulling their weight and supplying big visions that make sense. Hence the Hieroglyph project, an effort to produce an anthology of new SF that will be in some ways a conscious throwback to the practical techno-optimism of the Golden Age." Can SF save the world?
It would be saying a lot to say that SF can save the world, but I do think that we've fallen into a habitual state of being depressed and pessimistic about the future. We are extremely conservative and fearful about how we deploy our resources. It contrasts pretty vividly with the way we worked in the first half of the 20th century. We are looking at a lot of challenges now that I do not think can be solved as long as we stay in that mindset. This is more of an "if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail" kind of thing. My hammer is that I can write science fiction, so that's the thing I'm going to try to do. If I had billions of dollars sitting around, I could try to put my money where my mouth is and invest it. If I did something else for a living, I would be using my skills – whatever they were – to solve this problem, but since I'm a science fiction writer, I'm going to try to address it through the medium of science fiction.
I would imagine the billion dollar "Save the World" Kickstarter is a little ambitious right now.
Well, you never know. There are worse ideas.
Do you feel like your fans have grown up with you?
More and more frequently, I'll meet a reader who will mention a book that to me is a pretty recent book, something that I just finished writing, and he'll say, "I read that when I was a kid." It would seem that that is happening. I'm not as conscious of the passage of time, but that seems to be happening.
You originally wanted to make Snow Crash an interactive graphic novel but it was too early. Is the Mongoliad project the next step?
I wouldn't say next step, but I have been interested for awhile in trying to figure out how new tech is going to change the way we tell stories. My ideas about that change along with the technology. The Mongoliad was the pilot project for a larger effort that we hope will make use of the Internet and a lot of modern media production technology to tell stories in a big world in a number of different media. We chose prose first because it's the easiest and quickest thing to produce. We chose the Internet as the distribution channel for the same reason. The other stuff we're working on including CLANG are efforts to expand that into other mediums, in this case video games. We're just going to keep picking away at that, sort of like the guy in The Shawshank Redemption with the little hammer. Eventually, we may hit a stone wall and have to give up the project, but as long as we're allowed to keep tunneling, we'll keep doing so.
Do you think there will always be a place for the big novels that you write?
Oh yeah. There's no doubt that the medium is here to stay. People like big stories. You get unmatched bang for the buck writing stories. The bang in this case is being able to plant a big universe and a lot of powerful images inside a reader's head. The buck in this case is that there's one person working alone without needing any special tools. That's not going to change. They may be delivered in different ways, on e-readers or whatever, but they will be around for a long time.
How do you prefer to read?
I go back and forth between e-readers and paper. If I'm at home, I tend to prefer paper books. There's no logistical hassles, and they can be read in any light, except total darkness, of course. If I'm traveling around at all, I'll use an e-reader.
You have 25 tweets since 2010 on your Twitter account. It seems like you start, you stop, you start, you stop. Why do you keep coming back?
We set that up when The Mongoliad got started. It seemed like we should have that social media presence. I didn't take control of it and start writing my own until a few months ago. I've put up maybe half a dozen tweets of my own since then. From now on, anything that shows up on that channel is going to be written by me, but I'm just not a habitual checker of it. It may be that I'm following the wrong people but all the stuff that I see is just gibberish. It's big, long strings of links to things that I don't really feel like clicking on because I know it's going to take me off to some website and I'm going to lose a bunch of time browsing that website or watching that video. If all it's doing is giving me links to other places that I might be interested in, it's not useful to me. I prefer people who tweet funny or interesting remarks of their own without embedded links. There are a few people like that. Matt Ruff does a nice job. I just don't go to Twitter that often, and because I don't go there that often, I don't tweet that often.
Are there other social media sites that you use more?
I follow Facebook. I have a number of people who I hear from on there, but I don't really use it. I don't have many outgoing posts.
Do you still read reviews of your books?
I tend to wait until a long time after the book has been published. Then, I go back and read a few. A lot of times, the publisher will put a bunch of them together and send them to me. I tend not to read them at the time the book comes out.
Alvy Ray Smith once said of you: "He's on the shy side. A strong ego, but nicely hidden." Is that a fair description?
[Laughs] I think that you have to have a certain kind of strong ego to be a writer. If you write things with the expectation that other human beings are going to read them, that's a certain kind of statement of self-confidence in and of itself, right? I think it's necessary to have a little bit of that in order to write at all, or in order to attempt difficult things. I would say I have a certain kind of stubbornness that causes me to do difficult things or things that make not work, and I guess you could think of that as ego.
Do you think you hide it well? It sounds like you do if you put that much thought into it.
Well, I mean, I guess that's for other people to decide.
The Last Question
posted by Keito
2012-08-20 17:44:06The Last Question by Isaac Asimov (1956)
The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way:
Alexander Adell and Bertram Lupov were two of the faithful attendants of Multivac. As well as any human beings could, they knew what lay behind the cold, clicking, flashing face -- miles and miles of face -- of that giant computer. They had at least a vague notion of the general plan of relays and circuits that had long since grown past the point where any single human could possibly have a firm grasp of the whole.
Multivac was self-adjusting and self-correcting. It had to be, for nothing human could adjust and correct it quickly enough or even adequately enough -- so Adell and Lupov attended the monstrous giant only lightly and superficially, yet as well as any men could. They fed it data, adjusted questions to its needs and translated the answers that were issued. Certainly they, and all others like them, were fully entitled to share In the glory that was Multivac's.
For decades, Multivac had helped design the ships and plot the trajectories that enabled man to reach the Moon, Mars, and Venus, but past that, Earth's poor resources could not support the ships. Too much energy was needed for the long trips. Earth exploited its coal and uranium with increasing efficiency, but there was only so much of both.
But slowly Multivac learned enough to answer deeper questions more fundamentally, and on May 14, 2061, what had been theory, became fact.
The energy of the sun was stored, converted, and utilized directly on a planet-wide scale. All Earth turned off its burning coal, its fissioning uranium, and flipped the switch that connected all of it to a small station, one mile in diameter, circling the Earth at half the distance of the Moon. All Earth ran by invisible beams of sunpower.
Seven days had not sufficed to dim the glory of it and Adell and Lupov finally managed to escape from the public function, and to meet in quiet where no one would think of looking for them, in the deserted underground chambers, where portions of the mighty buried body of Multivac showed. Unattended, idling, sorting data with contented lazy clickings, Multivac, too, had earned its vacation and the boys appreciated that. They had no intention, originally, of disturbing it.
They had brought a bottle with them, and their only concern at the moment was to relax in the company of each other and the bottle.
"It's amazing when you think of it," said Adell. His broad face had lines of weariness in it, and he stirred his drink slowly with a glass rod, watching the cubes of ice slur clumsily about. "All the energy we can possibly ever use for free. Enough energy, if we wanted to draw on it, to melt all Earth into a big drop of impure liquid iron, and still never miss the energy so used. All the energy we could ever use, forever and forever and forever."
Lupov cocked his head sideways. He had a trick of doing that when he wanted to be contrary, and he wanted to be contrary now, partly because he had had to carry the ice and glassware. "Not forever," he said.
"Oh, hell, just about forever. Till the sun runs down, Bert."
"That's not forever."
"All right, then. Billions and billions of years. Twenty billion, maybe. Are you satisfied?"
Lupov put his fingers through his thinning hair as though to reassure himself that some was still left and sipped gently at his own drink. "Twenty billion years isn't forever."
"Will, it will last our time, won't it?"
"So would the coal and uranium."
"All right, but now we can hook up each individual spaceship to the Solar Station, and it can go to Pluto and back a million times without ever worrying about fuel. You can't do THAT on coal and uranium. Ask Multivac, if you don't believe me."
"I don't have to ask Multivac. I know that."
"Then stop running down what Multivac's done for us," said Adell, blazing up. "It did all right."
"Who says it didn't? What I say is that a sun won't last forever. That's all I'm saying. We're safe for twenty billion years, but then what?" Lupov pointed a slightly shaky finger at the other. "And don't say we'll switch to another sun."
There was silence for a while. Adell put his glass to his lips only occasionally, and Lupov's eyes slowly closed. They rested.
Then Lupov's eyes snapped open. "You're thinking we'll switch to another sun when ours is done, aren't you?"
"I'm not thinking."
"Sure you are. You're weak on logic, that's the trouble with you. You're like the guy in the story who was caught in a sudden shower and Who ran to a grove of trees and got under one. He wasn't worried, you see, because he figured when one tree got wet through, he would just get under another one."
"I get it," said Adell. "Don't shout. When the sun is done, the other stars will be gone, too."
"Darn right they will," muttered Lupov. "It all had a beginning in the original cosmic explosion, whatever that was, and it'll all have an end when all the stars run down. Some run down faster than others. Hell, the giants won't last a hundred million years. The sun will last twenty billion years and maybe the dwarfs will last a hundred billion for all the good they are. But just give us a trillion years and everything will be dark. Entropy has to increase to maximum, that's all."
"I know all about entropy," said Adell, standing on his dignity.
"The hell you do."
"I know as much as you do."
"Then you know everything's got to run down someday."
"All right. Who says they won't?"
"You did, you poor sap. You said we had all the energy we needed, forever. You said 'forever.'"
"It was Adell's turn to be contrary. "Maybe we can build things up again someday," he said.
"Why not? Someday."
"You ask Multivac. I dare you. Five dollars says it can't be done."
Adell was just drunk enough to try, just sober enough to be able to phrase the necessary symbols and operations into a question which, in words, might have corresponded to this: Will mankind one day without the net expenditure of energy be able to restore the sun to its full youthfulness even after it had died of old age?
Or maybe it could be put more simply like this: How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased?
Multivac fell dead and silent. The slow flashing of lights ceased, the distant sounds of clicking relays ended.
Then, just as the frightened technicians felt they could hold their breath no longer, there was a sudden springing to life of the teletype attached to that portion of Multivac. Five words were printed: INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.
"No bet," whispered Lupov. They left hurriedly.
By next morning, the two, plagued with throbbing head and cottony mouth, had forgotten about the incident.
Jerrodd, Jerrodine, and Jerrodette I and II watched the starry picture in the visiplate change as the passage through hyperspace was completed in its non-time lapse. At once, the even powdering of stars gave way to the predominance of a single bright marble-disk, centered.
"That's X-23," said Jerrodd confidently. His thin hands clamped tightly behind his back and the knuckles whitened.
The little Jerrodettes, both girls, had experienced the hyperspace passage for the first time in their lives and were self-conscious over the momentary sensation of inside-outness. They buried their giggles and chased one another wildly about their mother, screaming, "We've reached X-23 -- we've reached X-23 -- we've ----"
"Quiet, children," said Jerrodine sharply. "Are you sure, Jerrodd?"
"What is there to be but sure?" asked Jerrodd, glancing up at the bulge of featureless metal just under the ceiling. It ran the length of the room, disappearing through the wall at either end. It was as long as the ship.
Jerrodd scarcely knew a thing about the thick rod of metal except that it was called a Microvac, that one asked it questions if one wished; that if one did not it still had its task of guiding the ship to a preordered destination; of feeding on energies from the various Sub-galactic Power Stations; of computing the equations for the hyperspacial jumps.
Jerrodd and his family had only to wait and live in the comfortable residence quarters of the ship.
Someone had once told Jerrodd that the "ac" at the end of "Microvac" stood for "analog computer" in ancient English, but he was on the edge of forgetting even that.
Jerrodine's eyes were moist as she watched the visiplate. "I can't help it. I feel funny about leaving Earth."
"Why for Pete's sake?" demanded Jerrodd. "We had nothing there. We'll have everything on X-23. You won't be alone. You won't be a pioneer. There are over a million people on the planet already. Good Lord, our great grandchildren will be looking for new worlds because X-23 will be overcrowded."
Then, after a reflective pause, "I tell you, it's a lucky thing the computers worked out interstellar travel the way the race is growing."
"I know, I know," said Jerrodine miserably.
Jerrodette I said promptly, "Our Microvac is the best Microvac in the world."
"I think so, too," said Jerrodd, tousling her hair.
It was a nice feeling to have a Microvac of your own and Jerrodd was glad he was part of his generation and no other. In his father's youth, the only computers had been tremendous machines taking up a hundred square miles of land. There was only one to a planet. Planetary ACs they were called. They had been growing in size steadily for a thousand years and then, all at once, came refinement. In place of transistors had come molecular valves so that even the largest Planetary AC could be put into a space only half the volume of a spaceship.
Jerrodd felt uplifted, as he always did when he thought that his own personal Microvac was many times more complicated than the ancient and primitive Multivac that had first tamed the Sun, and almost as complicated as Earth's Planetary AC (the largest) that had first solved the problem of hyperspatial travel and had made trips to the stars possible.
"So many stars, so many planets," sighed Jerrodine, busy with her own thoughts. "I suppose families will be going out to new planets forever, the way we are now."
"Not forever," said Jerrodd, with a smile. "It will all stop someday, but not for billions of years. Many billions. Even the stars run down, you know. Entropy must increase."
"What's entropy, daddy?" shrilled Jerrodette II.
"Entropy, little sweet, is just a word which means the amount of running-down of the universe. Everything runs down, you know, like your little walkie-talkie robot, remember?"
"Can't you just put in a new power-unit, like with my robot?"
The stars are the power-units, dear. Once they're gone, there are no more power-units."
Jerrodette I at once set up a howl. "Don't let them, daddy. Don't let the stars run down."
"Now look what you've done, " whispered Jerrodine, exasperated.
"How was I to know it would frighten them?" Jerrodd whispered back.
"Ask the Microvac," wailed Jerrodette I. "Ask him how to turn the stars on again."
"Go ahead," said Jerrodine. "It will quiet them down." (Jerrodette II was beginning to cry, also.)
Jarrodd shrugged. "Now, now, honeys. I'll ask Microvac. Don't worry, he'll tell us."
He asked the Microvac, adding quickly, "Print the answer."
Jerrodd cupped the strip of thin cellufilm and said cheerfully, "See now, the Microvac says it will take care of everything when the time comes so don't worry."
Jerrodine said, "and now children, it's time for bed. We'll be in our new home soon."
Jerrodd read the words on the cellufilm again before destroying it: INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.
He shrugged and looked at the visiplate. X-23 was just ahead.
VJ-23X of Lameth stared into the black depths of the three-dimensional, small-scale map of the Galaxy and said, "Are we ridiculous, I wonder, in being so concerned about the matter?"
MQ-17J of Nicron shook his head. "I think not. You know the Galaxy will be filled in five years at the present rate of expansion."
Both seemed in their early twenties, both were tall and perfectly formed.
"Still," said VJ-23X, "I hesitate to submit a pessimistic report to the Galactic Council."
"I wouldn't consider any other kind of report. Stir them up a bit. We've got to stir them up."
VJ-23X sighed. "Space is infinite. A hundred billion Galaxies are there for the taking. More."
"A hundred billion is not infinite and it's getting less infinite all the time. Consider! Twenty thousand years ago, mankind first solved the problem of utilizing stellar energy, and a few centuries later, interstellar travel became possible. It took mankind a million years to fill one small world and then only fifteen thousand years to fill the rest of the Galaxy. Now the population doubles every ten years --"
VJ-23X interrupted. "We can thank immortality for that."
"Very well. Immortality exists and we have to take it into account. I admit it has its seamy side, this immortality. The Galactic AC has solved many problems for us, but in solving the problems of preventing old age and death, it has undone all its other solutions."
"Yet you wouldn't want to abandon life, I suppose."
"Not at all," snapped MQ-17J, softening it at once to, "Not yet. I'm by no means old enough. How old are you?"
"Two hundred twenty-three. And you?"
"I'm still under two hundred. --But to get back to my point. Population doubles every ten years. Once this Galaxy is filled, we'll have another filled in ten years. Another ten years and we'll have filled two more. Another decade, four more. In a hundred years, we'll have filled a thousand Galaxies. In a thousand years, a million Galaxies. In ten thousand years, the entire known Universe. Then what?"
VJ-23X said, "As a side issue, there's a problem of transportation. I wonder how many sunpower units it will take to move Galaxies of individuals from one Galaxy to the next."
"A very good point. Already, mankind consumes two sunpower units per year."
"Most of it's wasted. After all, our own Galaxy alone pours out a thousand sunpower units a year and we only use two of those."
"Granted, but even with a hundred per cent efficiency, we can only stave off the end. Our energy requirements are going up in geometric progression even faster than our population. We'll run out of energy even sooner than we run out of Galaxies. A good point. A very good point."
"We'll just have to build new stars out of interstellar gas."
"Or out of dissipated heat?" asked MQ-17J, sarcastically.
"There may be some way to reverse entropy. We ought to ask the Galactic AC."
VJ-23X was not really serious, but MQ-17J pulled out his AC-contact from his pocket and placed it on the table before him.
"I've half a mind to," he said. "It's something the human race will have to face someday."
He stared somberly at his small AC-contact. It was only two inches cubed and nothing in itself, but it was connected through hyperspace with the great Galactic AC that served all mankind. Hyperspace considered, it was an integral part of the Galactic AC.
MQ-17J paused to wonder if someday in his immortal life he would get to see the Galactic AC. It was on a little world of its own, a spider webbing of force-beams holding the matter within which surges of sub-mesons took the place of the old clumsy molecular valves. Yet despite it's sub-etheric workings, the Galactic AC was known to be a full thousand feet across.
MQ-17J asked suddenly of his AC-contact, "Can entropy ever be reversed?"
VJ-23X looked startled and said at once, "Oh, say, I didn't really mean to have you ask that."
"We both know entropy can't be reversed. You can't turn smoke and ash back into a tree."
"Do you have trees on your world?" asked MQ-17J.
The sound of the Galactic AC startled them into silence. Its voice came thin and beautiful out of the small AC-contact on the desk. It said: THERE IS INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.
VJ-23X said, "See!"
The two men thereupon returned to the question of the report they were to make to the Galactic Council.
Zee Prime's mind spanned the new Galaxy with a faint interest in the countless twists of stars that powdered it. He had never seen this one before. Would he ever see them all? So many of them, each with its load of humanity - but a load that was almost a dead weight. More and more, the real essence of men was to be found out here, in space.
Minds, not bodies! The immortal bodies remained back on the planets, in suspension over the eons. Sometimes they roused for material activity but that was growing rarer. Few new individuals were coming into existence to join the incredibly mighty throng, but what matter? There was little room in the Universe for new individuals.
Zee Prime was roused out of his reverie upon coming across the wispy tendrils of another mind.
"I am Zee Prime," said Zee Prime. "And you?"
"I am Dee Sub Wun. Your Galaxy?"
"We call it only the Galaxy. And you?"
"We call ours the same. All men call their Galaxy their Galaxy and nothing more. Why not?"
"True. Since all Galaxies are the same."
"Not all Galaxies. On one particular Galaxy the race of man must have originated. That makes it different."
Zee Prime said, "On which one?"
"I cannot say. The Universal AC would know."
"Shall we ask him? I am suddenly curious."
Zee Prime's perceptions broadened until the Galaxies themselves shrunk and became a new, more diffuse powdering on a much larger background. So many hundreds of billions of them, all with their immortal beings, all carrying their load of intelligences with minds that drifted freely through space. And yet one of them was unique among them all in being the originals Galaxy. One of them had, in its vague and distant past, a period when it was the only Galaxy populated by man.
Zee Prime was consumed with curiosity to see this Galaxy and called, out: "Universal AC! On which Galaxy did mankind originate?"
The Universal AC heard, for on every world and throughout space, it had its receptors ready, and each receptor lead through hyperspace to some unknown point where the Universal AC kept itself aloof.
Zee Prime knew of only one man whose thoughts had penetrated within sensing distance of Universal AC, and he reported only a shining globe, two feet across, difficult to see.
"But how can that be all of Universal AC?" Zee Prime had asked.
"Most of it, " had been the answer, "is in hyperspace. In what form it is there I cannot imagine."
Nor could anyone, for the day had long since passed, Zee Prime knew, when any man had any part of the making of a universal AC. Each Universal AC designed and constructed its successor. Each, during its existence of a million years or more accumulated the necessary data to build a better and more intricate, more capable successor in which its own store of data and individuality would be submerged.
The Universal AC interrupted Zee Prime's wandering thoughts, not with words, but with guidance. Zee Prime's mentality was guided into the dim sea of Galaxies and one in particular enlarged into stars.
A thought came, infinitely distant, but infinitely clear. "THIS IS THE ORIGINAL GALAXY OF MAN."
But it was the same after all, the same as any other, and Zee Prime stifled his disappointment.
Dee Sub Wun, whose mind had accompanied the other, said suddenly, "And Is one of these stars the original star of Man?"
The Universal AC said, "MAN'S ORIGINAL STAR HAS GONE NOVA. IT IS NOW A WHITE DWARF."
"Did the men upon it die?" asked Zee Prime, startled and without thinking.
The Universal AC said, "A NEW WORLD, AS IN SUCH CASES, WAS CONSTRUCTED FOR THEIR PHYSICAL BODIES IN TIME."
"Yes, of course," said Zee Prime, but a sense of loss overwhelmed him even so. His mind released its hold on the original Galaxy of Man, let it spring back and lose itself among the blurred pin points. He never wanted to see it again.
Dee Sub Wun said, "What is wrong?"
"The stars are dying. The original star is dead."
"They must all die. Why not?"
"But when all energy is gone, our bodies will finally die, and you and I with them."
"It will take billions of years."
"I do not wish it to happen even after billions of years. Universal AC! How may stars be kept from dying?"
Dee sub Wun said in amusement, "You're asking how entropy might be reversed in direction."
And the Universal AC answered. "THERE IS AS YET INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER."
Zee Prime's thoughts fled back to his own Galaxy. He gave no further thought to Dee Sub Wun, whose body might be waiting on a galaxy a trillion light-years away, or on the star next to Zee Prime's own. It didn't matter.
Unhappily, Zee Prime began collecting interstellar hydrogen out of which to build a small star of his own. If the stars must someday die, at least some could yet be built.
Man considered with himself, for in a way, Man, mentally, was one. He consisted of a trillion, trillion, trillion ageless bodies, each in its place, each resting quiet and incorruptible, each cared for by perfect automatons, equally incorruptible, while the minds of all the bodies freely melted one into the other, indistinguishable.
Man said, "The Universe is dying."
Man looked about at the dimming Galaxies. The giant stars, spendthrifts, were gone long ago, back in the dimmest of the dim far past. Almost all stars were white dwarfs, fading to the end.
New stars had been built of the dust between the stars, some by natural processes, some by Man himself, and those were going, too. White dwarfs might yet be crashed together and of the mighty forces so released, new stars built, but only one star for every thousand white dwarfs destroyed, and those would come to an end, too.
Man said, "Carefully husbanded, as directed by the Cosmic AC, the energy that is even yet left in all the Universe will last for billions of years."
"But even so," said Man, "eventually it will all come to an end. However it may be husbanded, however stretched out, the energy once expended is gone and cannot be restored. Entropy must increase to the maximum."
Man said, "Can entropy not be reversed? Let us ask the Cosmic AC."
The Cosmic AC surrounded them but not in space. Not a fragment of it was in space. It was in hyperspace and made of something that was neither matter nor energy. The question of its size and Nature no longer had meaning to any terms that Man could comprehend.
"Cosmic AC," said Man, "How may entropy be reversed?"
The Cosmic AC said, "THERE IS AS YET INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER."
Man said, "Collect additional data."
The Cosmic AC said, "I WILL DO SO. I HAVE BEEN DOING SO FOR A HUNDRED BILLION YEARS. MY PREDECESSORS AND I HAVE BEEN ASKED THIS QUESTION MANY TIMES. ALL THE DATA I HAVE REMAINS INSUFFICIENT."
"Will there come a time," said Man, "when data will be sufficient or is the problem insoluble in all conceivable circumstances?"
The Cosmic AC said, "NO PROBLEM IS INSOLUBLE IN ALL CONCEIVABLE CIRCUMSTANCES."
Man said, "When will you have enough data to answer the question?"
"THERE IS AS YET INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER."
"Will you keep working on it?" asked Man.
The Cosmic AC said, "I WILL."
Man said, "We shall wait."
"The stars and Galaxies died and snuffed out, and space grew black after ten trillion years of running down.
One by one Man fused with AC, each physical body losing its mental identity in a manner that was somehow not a loss but a gain.
Man's last mind paused before fusion, looking over a space that included nothing but the dregs of one last dark star and nothing besides but incredibly thin matter, agitated randomly by the tag ends of heat wearing out, asymptotically, to the absolute zero.
Man said, "AC, is this the end? Can this chaos not be reversed into the Universe once more? Can that not be done?"
AC said, "THERE IS AS YET INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER."
Man's last mind fused and only AC existed -- and that in hyperspace.
Matter and energy had ended and with it, space and time. Even AC existed only for the sake of the one last question that it had never answered from the time a half-drunken computer ten trillion years before had asked the question of a computer that was to AC far less than was a man to Man.
All other questions had been answered, and until this last question was answered also, AC might not release his consciousness.
All collected data had come to a final end. Nothing was left to be collected.
But all collected data had yet to be completely correlated and put together in all possible relationships.
A timeless interval was spent in doing that.
And it came to pass that AC learned how to reverse the direction of entropy.
But there was now no man to whom AC might give the answer of the last question. No matter. The answer -- by demonstration -- would take care of that, too.
For another timeless interval, AC thought how best to do this. Carefully, AC organized the program.
The consciousness of AC encompassed all of what had once been a Universe and brooded over what was now Chaos. Step by step, it must be done.
And AC said, "LET THERE BE LIGHT!"
And there was light----