Radical idea proposes how Earth could avoid being swallowed by the sun

17 May 2019

Image: © markoaliaksandr/Stock.adobe.com

In an extreme case of future planning, an engineer has proposed a solution to help Earth change orbit and avoid being destroyed by a dying sun.

If humanity still exists in 5bn years’ time, it will either need to have become an interplanetary species that has left Earth behind, or face being swallowed by the sun in its final death throes. Or maybe not, according to University of Glasgow engineer Dr Matteo Ceriotti, who suggested in The Conversation that it might be possible to move the Earth’s orbit out of harm’s way if needed.

The radical idea uses technology that we know today, even though it’s safe to assume that a civilisation 5bn years in the future would be a little more advanced than now. He suggested that if we were to use SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy launcher, we would need 300 billion billion of them at full capacity to reach the orbit change to Mars.

On top of that, things get more ludicrous as he proposed the materials that make up these rockets would be equivalent to 85pc of Earth’s mass, leaving a mere 15pc behind. Another suggestion would be electric thrusters such as ion drives to push us out of orbit.

This oversized thruster would need to be 1,000km above sea level, but attached to Earth with a rigid beam. Firing an ion beam at 40km per second, we would still need to eject the equivalent of 13pc of the Earth’s mass to move the planet. A simpler option, Ceriotti added, would be to simply leave the planet for elsewhere.

San Francisco bans facial recognition tech

Despite being the centre of much of the world’s technological progress, San Francisco lawmakers have announced a ban on facial recognition software being used by the police or any other agencies.

According to The New York Times, this makes San Francisco the first major American city to enact a ban, with the bill’s sponsor saying it sends a strong message to the rest of the nation.

“I think part of San Francisco being the real and perceived headquarters for all things tech also comes with a responsibility for its local legislators,” said city supervisor Aaron Peskin. “We have an outsize responsibility to regulate the excesses of technology precisely because they are headquartered here.”

However, critics of the ban have said the city should instead find ways to create regulations to allow facial recognition to be used for state security.

“It is ridiculous to deny the value of this technology in securing airports and border installations,” said Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert at George Washington University. “It is hard to deny that there is a public safety value to this technology.”

Illinois proposes annual $1,000 registration fee for EVs

Electric vehicle (EV) drivers in the US state of Illinois are more than a bit concerned with news that proposed legislation would introduce a $1,000 annual registration fee for the emission-free vehicle.

According to the Chicago Tribune (via New York Post), the fee would be 57 times more than the current $17.50 fee, with the proposal also looking to target petrol and diesel cars in order to raise funds for $2.4bn in roadway development.

Strangely, those driving hybrid cars and plug-in hybrid cars would not have to pay the significantly higher fee that EV drivers would.

A spokesperson for the EV producer Tesla said that it does not support the proposed increase, and auto research analyst Jeremy Acevedo has said that the move could significantly hurt EV sales in the state.

“Every automaker has broadcast loud and clear that the future of automotive is autonomous and electric,” said Acevedo. “Certainly, going from $17.50 to $1,000 in terms of registration isn’t going to move the needle in the direction the industry is hoping.”

Is this AI voice-mimicking technology the best yet?

Podcasters and anyone else who speaks for hours on end into a microphone may be worried by the development of a new algorithm that takes ‘deepfakes’ to a new level.

An artificial intelligence (AI) start-up called RealTalk has released what it claims is the most realistic AI simulation of a voice seen to date.

The subject in this case is Joe Rogan, a comedian and host of the Joe Rogan Experience, one of the most downloaded podcasts in the world with about 1,300 episodes. In a clip, RealTalk used the AI to make it sound as if Rogan was talking about creating a ‘chimp hockey team’, as well as using Rogan’s voice for the AI to discuss what it’s like to be a robot.

Its designers said in a blogpost that this could have considerable societal impact if placed in the wrong hands, admitting that “it’s pretty fucking scary” and it won’t be releasing its research publicly.

“In addition to raising awareness and acknowledging these issues, we also want to show this work as a way of starting a conversation on speech synthesis that must be had,” the company said.

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic