#Mars Colony Without an AI? #MarsSurvivalTips #scifi #Amazon #kindle

GLORY Ebook 300 dpiColonists take an Artificial Intelligence with them in my On Mars Series because, as one of my beta readers said, could anyone believe a novel about the future without AI? It feels like a given that computers will soon approach consciousness. Sometimes I have to ask on-line chat help if they’re human or not – sadly, because they didn’t seem to be answering me – maybe not the best argument for AIs. Intelligence is hard to come by.

Scientists from Toronto, NYU, and MIT developed an algorithm that captures our learning abilities, enabling computers to recognize and draw simple visual concepts that are mostly indistinguishable from those created by humans. Their work appears in the journal Science.

We human beings turn out to be pretty darned smart:

It has been very difficult to build machines that require as little data as humans when learning a new concept.

The machine’s not yet as smart as a human child, but even science fiction AIs are still learning.

Press Release on Eurekalert


Do Spare Parts Doom a #Colony on #Mars? :( Or can we print our way to success? #MarsSurvivalTips

NASA concept of a Mars colony

NASA concept of a Mars colony

In my #scifi books, Glory on Mars and Born on Mars, settlers have fancy 3D printers called fabricators, using lasers to sinter together almost anything. Giant robotic fabricators build their habitats while precision lab fabricators use metal foils to slowly construct any part they need. Lasers can even manipulate molecules or atoms, so they can make any crystal they want. But that’s science fiction.

One of MIT’s objections to the Mars-One plan for a permanent colony on the red planet is spare parts. As time goes on, spare parts for a growing colony would exceed the room in any plausible sized spacecraft.

Will 3D printing save the day?

NASA is working on this in the International Space Station – a way to make many different spare parts, as needed, from one source of material.

But we Earth-bound humans use a lot of different materials. My town’s recycling instructions list seven types of plastic, aluminum, steel, and glass. And what’s in the light bulbs and electronics I have to handle separately?

High-end industrial printers sinter parts from certain metal and plastic powders, but there are a lot of materials that can’t be printed. And 3D printers can’t easily mix materials in one print job. Printing a hammer is easy, but parts that will move must be printed separately and assembled. Also, the parts aren’t as strong because of weakness between the layers.

On the plus side, while 3D printing looks expensive compared to traditional manufacturing, it looks pretty good compared to sending spacecraft to Mars.

If you’re a colonist on Mars you’ll live in a bubble of earthly environment, and if that bubble pops you’re dead in five minutes. Spare parts will be life-and-death items. The technology I sent to Mars in my books is still in the real-world’s future.

See more about Mars-One and the debate with MIT students.

Is a One-Way Trip to #Mars Crazy? :( Is it #SciFi? :)

Mars_habitat NASA

NASA concept Photo ID: S93-45586

Mars-One is a Dutch not-for-profit planning to establish a permanent colony on Mars. They’ve selected candidates to train for the one-way trip in five or ten years. Is that insane?

  • Problems to overcome
    They say their settlers will land a ship using retro rockets in a configuration never tried before, and no one’s ever landed such big payloads.
  • Science won’t be their focus, colonization will – but how do you learn to live off the Martian land without a lot of specialized science?
  • Going to Mars, even one-way, will cost a lot – really, really a lot. Mars-One will raise the billions needed using the Olympics as a model – ad revenue, broadcast rights, and donations.
  • MIT students studied colony plans and found even simple things like CO2 versus O2 balance for the plants and humans don’t compute. That Mars-One hasn’t planned enough time or money to develop their missions. And they doubt a colony could become self-sustaining anytime soon.

In my scifi book, Glory on Mars, the first colony is further in the future than GLORY Ebook 300 dpiMars-One, and I give my settlers some neat technologies – robots to build the settlement, an Artificial Intelligence, and satellite systems complete with an orbiting energy station to beam power to the surface. That’s still not enough to prevent disasters.

View the physicsfocus article and Mars-One web site. More about the MIT study here including a video of their debate with Mars-One founders. More about my books here.

Sols on #Mars


Colony concept. Cutaway shows underground hydroponics.

I’m working on a new book for next summer set at a colony on Mars. Personally, I feel conflicted about colonizing Mars. It will be such a hard life, huddled inside tiny quarters, subsistence farming, and dependent on technology to do everything including breath. A recent MIT study raises a fear I hadn’t thought of: raising enough plants in a small space may generate so much oxygen that fire becomes a huge hazard. They also think the technology isn’t as much of a slam-dunk as Mars One advertises. So I don’t think I have to worry about the possibility for myself.

But my question today is less profound.

When writing about people on Mars, it seems to me I need to use some terms that acknowledge the differences in years and days between Earth and Mars. NASA uses the term “sol” for a Martian day, which is only slightly longer than an Earth day. “The word ‘yestersol’ was coined by the NASA Mars operations team early during the MER mission to refer to the previous sol (the Mars version of ‘yesterday’) and came into fairly wide use within that organization during the Mars Exploration Rover Mission of 2003. It was even picked up and used by the press. Other neologisms include ‘tosol’ (for ‘today’) and ‘nextersol’, ‘morrowsol’, or ‘solmorrow’ (for ‘tomorrow’)” Wikipedia

Much as I love these terms (“nextersol”, how cool is that?) I’m concerned a reader will trip over them and ultimately find them annoying and distracting. Knocking a reader out of the story is too high a price to pay just because I think the words are cute. I recall a tip I read somewhere: Write for yourself, and edit for your readers.

What do you think?

MIT’s Top Ten Hard #ScienceFiction #amreading #scifi

Stylized illustration of a spaceship and the s...

Based on the description of the emblem of the fictional Galactic Empire in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

gods themselves“MITs Technology Review will publish TR:SF, a collection of original science fiction stories, in the fall. The stories will all be near-future, hard science fiction, inspired by the kinds of emerging technologies we see in our coverage at Technology Review.”  What will MIT’s Sci Fi look like?  They say they admire such classic authors as H. G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke.  Take a look at their nominations for “Top Ten“.   These are stories working scientists and engineers cite as their inspiration.  Good Sci Fi makes you think, “This could really happen.”  Check out the comments, too.  They provide more Sci Fi favorites.

I always loved Asimov.  I kept my copy of The Gods Themselves for years, and loved the puzzles presented by malfunctioning robots caught in dilemmas from the three laws of robotics.  Those three laws and other features of Asimov’s robots provided a jumping-off place for other authors.  For example, Asimov’s robots were built with positronic brains, a feature echoed by Star Trek’s Mr. Data.