March 12, 2016

China plans Hubble Class space telescope with 300 time larger field of view and this would mean China would become competitive with US spy satellites

China announced a space telescope program, which will advance China into capabilities only previously held by programs like the U.S. Hubble space telescope.

The Chinese space telescope would have a 2+meter diameter lens with a field of view 300 times that of the Hubble Space telescope, while maintaining the same level of image resolution. With such a wide field of view, the space telescope could survey 40 percent of the cosmos in ten years. Zhou Jianping, the head of China's manned space program, noted that such a wide field-of-view would create a higher fidelity image to search for dark matter, dark energy, and exoplanets. Even more notable than the capabilities, however, may be the plan for where to locate the telescope.

Zhang said that the Chinese space telescope would orbit close to a Chinese space station, likely the Tiangong 3, so that Chinese taikonauts would quickly service any problems, compared to the 3.5 year wait for NASA to correct the Hubble Telescope's mirror problems. The Tiangong 3's two 15-meter-long robotic arms would be very helpful in servicing the space telescope. Using a space station as a permanent support base for a satellite has not yet been tried before; neither Skylab, Mir, nor the ISS had any large satellites close by. To outfit the Tiangong 3 for such a mission, China would need to stockpile supplies of tools and spares to provide for prompt servicing of a space telescope, though new technology such as monitoring nanosatellites could make telescope repairs easier.

Keyhole spy satellites and the Hubble Space telescope were built of common technology and similar designs.

China space telescope design

Keyhole 11 class spy satellite

"Keyhole-class" (KH) reconnaissance satellites have been orbiting the Earth for more than 30 years. They are typically used to take overhead photos for military missions. A KH-12 is a $1 billion satellite that resembles the Hubble Space Telescope, except it is looking at our planet. They are supplemented by the 15-ton Lacrosse-class radar-imaging satellites. A Keyhole satellite as a gigantic orbiting digital camera with an incredibly huge lens on it. Optical image reconnaissance satellites use a charge coupled device (CCD) to gather images that make up a digital photograph for transmission back to Earth from an altitude of about 200 miles.

In 2014, the United States' spy satellite agency is giving NASA two spare space telescopes free of charge, each potentially more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope.

The two spy satellite telescopes were originally built to fly space-based surveillance missions for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), but will be repurposed by NASA for astronomical research instead. Their donation to NASA was revealed in a surprise announcement.

Both NRO space telescopes have a main mirror nearly 8 feet wide (2.4 meters), rivaling the Hubble Space Telescope, and also carry a secondary mirror to enhance image sharpness, according to press reports.

China's planned space station


China creating its own DARPA in a move that follows Japan and South Korea creating DARPA like agencies

China'sPeople’s Liberation Army (PLA) is bringing military Research and Development back under its oversight and launching a new agency modeled after the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

China is joining a trend in Asia: Japan has launched a DARPA-like agency, and South Korea is planning one, too. “It is natural that China and other countries are trying to establish DARPA-like organizations that can marry cutting-edge science and technology for defense applications,” says Richard Weitz, director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C. But whether China can succeed is an open question, he asserts, as DARPA’s success—the Internet is its most famous creation—is rooted in U.S. protection of freedom of expression. China has one big advantage, he says: It’s “very effective in acquiring advanced technology from foreign businesses through cyber and other means.”

China’s central government plans to spend $147 billion on defense this year; the amount allotted to defense R and D is a state secret.

The new committee is headed by Liu Guozhi, an applied physicist and academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. An expert on high power microwaves, he formerly commanded the Malan nuclear test base in Xinjing, China, and was deputy director of the dissolved PLA General Armaments Department. Liu’s committee is now creating the DARPA-like agency under it, according to a source who requested anonymity.





The efforts of China’s advanced research might look a lot like those of other governments, since China’s already stolen plans for advanced military jets, ships, and lasers.

Japan allowed its largest state-funded research and development agency to get involved in military research for the first time to help boost development of export-worthy defence technologies.

The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) will work with private companies on innovative projects, identifying promising technologies.

The companies involved will retain commercial rights to the technology developed.

According to the sources NEDO will be restructured to accommodate the new responsibilities and will operate similarly to the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

NEDO has a budget of 131.9 billion yen (about US$1.2 billion) per year. The major part of the NEDO budget is new energy research.

Alphago creator targets vastly better smart phone within 5 years and improved robotics and healthcare

Verge interviewed Demis Hassabis who led the creation of Google's Alphago program which has won a best of 5 series of games against the World's top go Player of the last decade Lee Sedol.

Q. Is there potential for another AI-vs-game showdown in the future?

I think for perfect information games, Go is the pinnacle. Certainly there are still other top Go players to play. There are other games — no-limit poker is very difficult, multiplayer has its challenges because it’s an imperfect information game. And then there are obviously all sorts of video games that humans play way better than computers, like StarCraft is another big game in Korea as well. Strategy games require a high level of strategic capability in an imperfect information world — "partially observed," it’s called. The thing about Go is obviously you can see everything on the board, so that makes it slightly easier for computers.



Q. How Prior Career in Video Games led to this

DeepMind was always my ultimate goal. I’d been planning it for more than 20 years, in a way. If you view all the things I’ve done through a prism of eventually starting an AI effort, then it kind of makes sense what I chose to do. If you’re familiar with my stuff at Bullfrog and so on, you’ll know that AI was a core part of everything I wrote and was involved with, and obviously Peter Molyneux’s games are all AI games as well. Working on Theme Park when I was 16 or 17 years old was quite a seminal moment for me in terms of realizing how powerful AI could be if we really tried to extend it. We sold millions of copies, and so many people enjoyed playing that game, and it was because of the AI that adapted to the way you played. We took that forward and I tried to extend that for the rest of my games career, and then I switched out of that back to academia and neuroscience because I felt around the mid-2000s that we’d gone as far as we could trying to sneak in AI research through the back door while you’re actually supposed to be making a game. And that’s hard to do, because publishers just want the game, right?

Q. The main future uses of AI that you’ve brought up this week have been healthcare, smartphone assistants, and robotics. Let’s unpack some of those. To bring up healthcare, IBM with Watson has done some things with cancer diagnosis for example — what can DeepMind bring to the table?

Well, it’s early days in that. We announced a partnership with the NHS a couple of weeks ago but that was really just to start building a platform that machine learning can be used in. I think Watson’s very different than what we do, from what I understand of it — it’s more like an expert system, so it’s a very different style of AI. I think the sort of things you’ll see this kind of AI do is medical diagnosis of images and then maybe longitudinal tracking of vital signs or quantified self over time, and helping people have healthier lifestyles. I think that’ll be quite suitable for reinforcement learning.

Q. With the NHS partnership, you’ve announced an app which doesn’t seem to use much in the way of AI or machine learning. What’s the thought behind that? Why is the NHS using this rather than software from anybody else?

Well, NHS software as I understand it is pretty terrible, so I think the first step is trying to bring that into the 21st century. They’re not mobile, they’re not all the things we take for granted as consumers today. And it’s very frustrating, I think, for doctors and clinicians and nurses and it slows them down. So I think the first stage is to help them with more useful tools, like visualizations and basic stats. We thought we’ll just build that, we’ll see where we are, and then more sophisticated machine learning techniques could then come into play.


DARPA seeks McGyvers to take easily purchased everyday technologies and Improv them into weapons or threats

DARPA wants the public to think like the TV character McGyver and take easily purchased everyday items and improvise them into weapons or security threats. In the TV show, the genius MacGyver, who never carries a gun but always thwarts the enemy with vast scientific knowledge - sometimes with little more than a paper clip and the duct tape in his pocket.

Hacking household items

The rules are pretty straightforward. "Proposers are free to reconfigure, repurpose, program, reprogram, modify, combine, or recombine commercially available technology in any way within the bounds of local, state, and federal laws and regulations," the announcement noted. "Use of components, products, and systems from non-military technical specialties (e.g., transportation, construction, maritime, and communications) is of particular interest."

Part of this broad-based hacker "red-teaming" of potential improvised threats is focused on what can be done within a tight budget and a tight deadline. Selected "performers" will compete against each other for a chance to build their prototype during a short DARPA-funded feasibility study phase (with up to $40,000 funding per individual awards). The performing teams will have only two weeks to construct a prototype once they've been chosen, with up to $70,000 additional funding and up to $20,000 for provisioning for the evaluation test.

For decades, U.S. national security was ensured in large part by a simple advantage: a near-monopoly on access to the most advanced technologies. Increasingly, however, off-the-shelf equipment developed for the transportation, construction, agricultural and other commercial sectors features highly sophisticated components, which resourceful adversaries can modify or combine to create novel and unanticipated security threats. To assess this growing security challenge and identify specific potential risks, a new DARPA effort will ask experts across multiple disciplines to look at today’s bustling tech marketplace with an inventor’s eye and imagine how easily purchased, relatively benign technologies might be converted into serious security threats. The endeavor is dubbed “Improv”, an abbreviated reference to the potential for improvising with widely available technology to create new and unanticipated risks.

“DARPA’s mission is to create strategic surprise, and the agency primarily does so by pursuing radically innovative and even seemingly impossible technologies,” said program manager John Main, who will oversee the new effort. “Improv is being launched in recognition that strategic surprise can also come from more familiar technologies, adapted and applied in novel ways.”

Improv will explore ways to combine or convert commercially available products such as off-the-shelf electronics, components created through rapid prototyping, and open-source code to cost-effectively create sophisticated military technologies and capabilities. To bring a broad range of perspectives to bear, DARPA is inviting engineers, biologists, information technologists and others from the full spectrum of technical disciplines—including credentialed professionals and skilled hobbyists—to show how easily-accessed hardware, software, processes and methods might be used to create products or systems that could pose a future threat. DARPA will assess candidate ideas and offer varying levels of support to develop and test selected proposals. The emphasis will be on speed and economy, with the goal of propelling winning submissions from concept to simple working prototypes within about 90 days.





“DARPA often looks at the world from the point of view of our potential adversaries to predict what they might do with available technology,” Main said. “Historically we did this by pulling together a small group of technical experts, but the easy availability in today’s world of an enormous range of powerful technologies means that any group of experts only covers a small slice of the available possibilities. In Improv we are reaching out to the full range of technical experts to involve them in a critical national security issue.”

DARPA intends to fund selected Improv proposals through a short feasibility-study phase, during which performers will refine their ideas and compete for the opportunity to build prototypes. DARPA will evaluate the results of that work, and a subset of the prototypes will proceed to a detailed evaluation regimen. If performance warrants, DARPA may advance the relevant capabilities in separate follow-on efforts.

They are asking the American public to put on its collective black hat and find new ways to turn everyday technology into weapons of online destruction.

AlphaGo wins third Go game to win the best of five 3-0 over human World Champion Lee Sedol

DeepMind's program AlphaGo took on the legendary Lee Sedol (9-dan pro), the top Go player of the past decade, in a $1M 5-game challenge match in Seoul. AlphaGo won 3 games to zero.

In October 2015, AlphaGo became the first computer program ever to beat a professional Go player by winning 5-0 against the reigning 3-times European Champion Fan Hui (2-dan pro). That work was featured in a front cover article in the science journal Nature in January 2016.

AlphaGo is now 3-0 up in the series, but there's no mercy rule here — the remaining games on Sunday and Tuesday will still be played out.

"To be honest we are a bit stunned and speechless," said DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis. "AlphaGo can compute tens of thousand positions a second, but it's amazing that Lee Se-dol is able to compete with that and push AlphaGo to the limit. We came here to challenge Lee Se-dol because we wanted to see what AlphaGo was capable of, and his amazing genius and creative skills have done that."

"I do apologize for not being able to satisfy people's expectations," said Lee, who believes that he had no chance in the first game, missed opportunities in the second, and succumbed to pressure today. He asked for people to continue to show interest in the remaining two games, despite his overall loss. "I believe [Lee] would have been difficult to beat today by any other top professional," said 9-dan pro player and match commentator Michael Redmond, who called AlphaGo a "work of art" that could revolutionize Go play in the future.






March 11, 2016

American ability to establish air superiority in the 2020s against China and Russia will not be assured and the US could have a fighter gap in the 2030s

Rand Corporation had a study that in 2017 it would take 10 to 20 times the number of US planes to achieve 50% attrition of the Chinese airforce in a conflict in the South China Sea compared the number of planes needed to achieve the same goals in 1996. Each airwing has 72-aircraft.


It would take around ten times as many planes to achieve military objectives in a conflict over Taiwan comparing 2017 to 1996.





America’s current air supremacy rests on the F-15 fighter fleet complemented by small numbers of F-22s. The elderly F-15s are though having problems handling the latest, new-build Russian and Chinese fighters. In assessing performance against the Russian Su-35 fighter (now being acquired by China), the National Interest’s Dave Majumdar observes: “Overall, if all things were equal, even a fully upgraded F-15C with the latest AESA upgrades would have its hands full . . . .”

As regards the much higher performance F-22, only about ninety are available for global air supremacy tasks. This is arguably too small for winning air supremacy in one theater, let alone both Europe and the Pacific. Ongoing peacetime training attrition is further gradually reducing this small fleet.

Some consider the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will in time address declining air supremacy. Countering this sanguine view, the worrying RAND study earlier noted included the F-35 (and the F-22) albeit not the new Chinese J-20 or J-31 stealth aircraft. This study, in looking at 2017, may actually understate what China will be capable of later this decade when it has more than 1,000 advanced fighters in service.

So what? Does air supremacy matter? Air supremacy will not win a war but it will stop a war being lost. America has not won a war without air supremacy—a point that has been widely recognised. It’s no surprise that China sees air superiority as one of the key “Three Superiorities” that can decide a conflict’s outcome. Nor is it a surprise that a major part of Russia’s force modernisation is fighter development and procurement.

Solarcity gigafactory for solar cells could make solar plus batteries cheaper than fossil fuels

“Right now [Solarcity] can sell you energy in 14 states at a rate lower than what you’re currently paying the utility,” says SolarCity chief technology officer Peter Rive. The Buffalo gigafactory for solar sets us up for a future where solar plus batteries is cheaper than fossil fuels.

SolarCity’s sprawling Buffalo factory, built and paid for by the state of New York, is nearing completion and will soon begin producing some of the most efficient solar panels available commercially. Capable of making 10,000 solar panels a day, or one gigawatt of solar capacity a year, it will be the largest solar manufacturing plant in North America and one of the biggest in the world.

When production begins, SolarCity, already the leading installer of residential solar panels in the United States, will become a vertically integrated manufacturer and provider—doing everything from making the solar cells to putting them on rooftops.

Solar panels installed by SolarCity cost the company $2.84 per watt (including sales and marketing plus overhead, in addition to the cost of the hardware), down from $4.73 in 2012. The combination of the new, highly efficient panels, the volume of product coming out of the new factory, and a simplified manufacturing process is a big reason why the company expects its costs for residential solar to fall well below $2.50 per watt by the end of 2017, when the Buffalo facility reaches full production.

The solar technology from the plant will combine a standard crystalline-silicon solar cell with elements of a thin-film cell, along with a layer of a semiconductor oxide. Last October, SolarCity announced that test panels made at a small facility in Fremont, California, had tested at just over 22 percent efficiency. Today’s commodity silicon-based solar panels have efficiencies of between 16 and 18 percent.



First solar reaches record 22.1% efficiency for Cadmium telluride solar cells

First Solar, Inc. set a record for cadmium-telluride (CdTe) photovoltaic (PV) research cell conversion efficiency, achieving 22.1 percent efficiency certified at the Newport Corporation's Technology and Applications Center (TAC) PV Lab. The achievement confirms that First Solar is on pace with its established research cell roadmap, and validates CdTe's growing competitive advantage over multi-crystalline silicon technology and other commercial thin film PV.

Conversion efficiency of CdTe is one of several factors that translate to superior performance of First Solar's technology in the field, which have a proven specific energy yield advantage, delivering more usable energy per nameplate watt than conventional c-Si modules

The company’s commercial line of solar cells has reached an energy conversion efficiency of 16.4 percent.

The theoretical efficiency limit for cadmium telluride cells is above 30 percent—significantly higher than that of conventional silicon. (Today’s commodity silicon-based solar panels have efficiencies between 16 and 18 percent; their theoretical limit is thought to be well below 30 percent.)



DARPA VTOL X-plane will help the Army Future Vertical Lift program

Technologies from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) LightningStrike vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) X-Plane programme could assist the US Army as it crafts it Future Vertical Lift (FVL) concept, according to the official leading the effort.

"The army and the FVL programme are aware of what we're doing, and we share data and results," Ashish Bagai, a programme manager in DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, told IHS Jane's on 9 March. "The army has expressed interest in staying informed."

DARPA awarded the contract for the next stage of the LightningStrike programme to Aurora Flight Sciences in preparation for flight tests by the end of 2018. Aurora Flight Sciences bested Boeing, Karem and Sikorsky for the award announced on 3 March.

All four of the finalists offered unique concepts for the new X-Plane, Bagai said.

"VTOL has been a tricky field, there was a time when some thought that helicopter design would not advance further," he said. "We've been able to prove that that's far from the truth."



March 10, 2016

USS Gerald Ford aircraft carrier scheduled for commissioning this summer

The $13 billion USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) aircraft carrier is the most expensive and most advanced warship ever built. It will be commissioned this summer.

The ship can hold 4,500 people and weighs 90,000 tons. The CVN-78 is the lead ship in the Ford class of aircraft carriers, replacing some of the U.S. Navy’s existing Nimitz-class carriers. At first glance, both classes have a similar-looking hull, but the Ford class introduces a series of technical innovations designed to improve carrier’s operating efficiency, and reduce operating costs and crew requirements.



Instead of conventional steam catapults to launch jets, the supercarrier is outfitted with EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System), which is lighter and requires less space. It also needs less maintenance and manpower, and is more reliable and energy-efficient. EMALS can launch an aircraft every 45 seconds, 25% faster than its steam counterpart. Furthermore, since EMALS uses no steam, it’s a suitable candidate for launching drones and other electric vehicles.


Rear Admiral confirms China is building aircraft carrier battle groups

China is building aircraft carrier battlegroups and plans to deploy them not only in the disputed East and South China seas, but also to protect the country’s overseas ­interests.

Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo, who served as a national political adviser and sits on the navy’s advisory board on cybersecurity, told the state-run Xinhua News Agency that building aircraft carriers served to “defend China’s sovereignty of the islands and reefs, maritime rights and overseas ­interests”.

The defence ministry confirmed this year that China was building its second aircraft carrier, its first wholly home-made one.

Xinhua mentioned China’s growing interests overseas, including the increasing numbers of nationals travelling abroad and its direct investments. It also noted a need to protect overseas ethnic Chinese.

“Protecting the economic, political status and occupational safety of overseas Chinese is paramount to safeguarding China’s domestic economic development and its reform and opening-up,” Yin said, adding that such protection required strong naval power like aircraft carrier battlegroups.

The CNS Liaoning was recently spotted alongside 4 Type 052C/Type 052D destroyers, 2 Type 054A frigates, 1-2 Type 093 Shang nuclear submarine and 1 supply ship. Future carrier battle groups may include the Type 055 destroyer.


US Carrier Strike Group

A US carrier strike group is composed of roughly 7,500 personnel, an aircraft carrier, at least one cruiser, a destroyer squadron of at least two destroyers and/or frigates, and a carrier air wing of 65 to 70 aircraft. A carrier strike group also, on occasion, includes submarines, attached logistics ships and a supply ship.

The US Navy maintains 11 carrier strike groups, 10 of which are based in the United States and one that is forward deployed to Japan. They were all redesignations of former Carrier Groups (CarGrus) and Cruiser-Destroyer Groups (CCDGs). The Fleet Response Plan requires that six CSGs be deployed or ready for deployment within 30 days at any given time, while two additional groups must be ready for deployment within 90 days. The Navy typically keeps at least one CSG in the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Southwest Asia and one in the U.S. Seventh Fleet in the Western Pacific at all times. CSGs operate in the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, and U.S. Fourth Fleet around the South American continent as they transit to from other areas.



Nextbigfuture at 70 million pageviews and over 215 million Google plus views

Nextbigfuture will have a total of 70 million pageviews later today and has over 215 million Google plus views.

Thanks to all of the readers and commenters.

Looking forward to passing the 100 million pageview mark in 2017.




European Central Bank launches sweeping stimulus plan

The European Central Bank cut all its main interest rates, expanded its bond-buying stimulus program and offered new cheap long-term loans to banks, making an unexpectedly aggressive move to boost inflation and economic growth in the 19 countries that share the euro.

The bank's steps on most counts exceeded expectations among analysts, suggesting that it was determined to have an impact and avoid the market disappointment that occurred after its Dec. 3 meeting, when it was seen as having done less than it could have. Stock markets surged Thursday after the ECB's announcement.

At Thursday's meeting, the central bank:

— Cut its main benchmark rate to zero from 0.05%, a mostly symbolic step,

— Lowered the rate on deposits from commercial banks at the central bank to minus 0.40% from minus 0.30%, an unconventional move aimed at pushing banks to lend rather than hoard cash,

— Increased its monthly bond purchases to 80 billion euros ($88 billion) from 60 billion euros, pushing more newly printed money into the economy,

— Added corporate bonds to the assets it can buy, expanding the potential scope of the purchase program,

— Announced long-term cheap loans of up to four years to help support banks.

The negative rate on deposits -- in essence, a tax on bank's excess funds -- is an unusual step aimed at pushing banks to lend rather than leave money at the central bank.

More lending would promote growth and push up inflation from a worryingly low annual rate of minus 0.2%. The rate cut and the other measures to expand stimulus underline how far the ECB sees itself from achieving its goal of inflation of just under 2%.

March 09, 2016

AlphaGo wins Match 2 to go up 2-0 in the best of 5

DeepMind's program AlphaGo takes on the legendary Lee Sedol (9-dan pro), the top Go player of the past decade, in a $1M 5-game challenge match in Seoul. This is the livestream for Match 2.

AlphaGo has just won the second game of a five-game Go match being held in Seoul, South Korea. AlphaGo prevailed in a gripping battle that saw Lee resign after hanging on in the final period of byo-yomi ("second-reading" in Japanese) overtime, which gave him fewer than 60 seconds to carry out each move.

AlphaGo is now up 2-0 in the best of 5 set of matches.

This marks the first time in history that a computer program has defeated a top-ranked human Go player on a full 19x19 board with no handicap twice in a row.

Lee Sedol said at the post-game press conference, 'I would like to express my respect to Demis and his team for making such an amazing program like AlphaGo. I am surprised by this result. But I did enjoy the game and am looking forward to the next one.'

Yesterday I was surprised but today it's more than that — I am speechless," said Lee in the post-game press conference. "I admit that it was a very clear loss on my part. From the very beginning of the game I did not feel like there was a point that I was leading." DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis was "speechless" too. "I think it's testament to Lee Se-dol's incredible skills," he said. "We're very pleased that AlphaGo played some quite surprising and beautiful moves, according to the commentators, which was amazing to see."

In the first game, Lee felt he made one error and he was never able to recover from it.

Lee is an 18-time world champion. Lee is 33 years old. He was promoted to the professional level in 1995 when he was 12.

AlphaGo has been hailed as a landmark development in artificial intelligence research, as Go has previously been regarded as a hard problem in machine learning that was expected to be out of reach for the technology of the time. Toby Manning, the referee of AlphaGo's match against Fan Hui, and Hajin Lee, secretary general of the International Go Federation, both reason that in the future, Go players will get help from computers to learn what they have done wrong in games and improve their skills







Bill Gates explains why China will build the first fourth generation nuclear plant

Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, is chairman of TerraPower, a startup developing a “travelling wave reactor.”

In September 2015, TerraPower finalized a contract with China National Nuclear Corp. to build a prototype of the reactor, followed by a commercial version.



Blue Origin shows off its production plant and BE4 rocket engine and other development plans

Blue Origin is the other rocket company run by a billionaire. They are also trying to develop reusable rockets. The billionaire is Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazom.com.

Jeff Bezos has moved Blue Origin out of semi-stealth mode.

For almost four hours, Mr. Bezos, who only occasionally talks to the press, led 11 reporters on a tour of the factory and answered a litany of questions over lunch.

The reusable New Shepard spacecraft that launched to the outskirts of space in November and then made a return trip in January will launch again soon. Depending on how well the testing goes, paying tourists, six at a time, might start making the short trips, experiencing a few minutes of weightlessness in space as soon as 2018, he said.

About 600 people work at Blue Origin, most at the Kent headquarters with a small number at its test-launch site near Van Horn, Texas.

Bezos said that will rise to 1,000 within the next year and later to 1,200 as the company ramps up its engineering and manufacturing.

He let his engineers make their presentations about a new engine, the BE-4, which is under development with tests of a full version beginning by the end of the year.

BE-4 is an engine that is scheduled to fly by 2019, meeting the congressionally mandated deadline to eliminate dependence on Russian-built engines. The alternative engine option is multiple years behind and could not be integrated into a launch vehicle until at least 2021, extending our dependence on Russian engines well beyond 2019.

The BE-4 will power NASA’s next-generation launch vehicle, the Vulcan rocket built by United Launch Alliance — the joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Blue Origin will also use the BE-4 to power its own series of orbital rockets — much larger than New Shepard and, for now, nameless, though dubbed internally the “Very Big Brother” rockets. Those will be built and launched at Cape Canaveral, Fla., then land on platforms in the Atlantic Ocean.

Blue Origin expects to ramp up to building a dozen BE-4 engines a year in Kent, but it will need much higher production rates if NASA’s Vulcan and its own orbital rockets proceed as planned.

The company is actively searching for a site to build a large BE-4 production plant.

Much of the serious engineering in Kent is now devoted to the BE-4 engine.

In that engine’s core, where temperatures reach 5,000 degrees, liquid fuel circulates in carefully machined channels to prevent a meltdown.

On Tuesday, engineers in a small operations center monitored video from Texas of a test stand where BE-4 engine components are being tested this week.

The New Shepard crew capsule. The reusable New Shepard spacecraft, which launched to the outskirts of space in November, will launch again soon. Credit Blue Origin

Blue Origin rocket launch in 2015



Deep Learning for Robots: Robotic arms training in parallel to cut overall training time and reduce errors

While we’ve recently seen great strides in robotic capability, the gap between human and robot motor skills remains vast. Machines still have a very long way to go to match human proficiency even at basic sensorimotor skills like grasping. However, by linking learning with continuous feedback and control, we might begin to bridge that gap, and in so doing make it possible for robots to intelligently and reliably handle the complexities of the real world.

The video below is from Korea (KAIST) and won last year’s (2015) DARPA robotics challenge. The remarkably precise and deliberate motions are deeply impressive. But they are also quite… robotic. Why is that? What makes robot behavior so distinctly robotic compared to human behavior? At a high level, current robots typically follow a sense-plan-act paradigm, where the robot observes the world around it, formulates an internal model, constructs a plan of action, and then executes this plan. This approach is modular and often effective, but tends to break down in the kinds of cluttered natural environments that are typical of the real world. Here, perception is imprecise, all models are wrong in some way, and no plan survives first contact with reality.





Arxiv - Learning Hand-Eye Coordination for Robotic Grasping with Deep Learning and Large-Scale Data Collection

What is different about AlphaGo versus Deep Blue? AlphaGo is a learning system and a hybrid system

AI expert Ben Goertzel explains AlphaGo.

We are using learning now and not just simplistic search

Alphago is not just one system

  1. Deep Learning neural networks
  2. Monte Carlo Sampling
  3. Game tree search

Goertzel at Hanson Robotics is using hybrid architecture as well
Deep Learning
Symbolic Reasoning
Computational Linguistics

Machine Translation- Google is using pure statistical methods but in the literature there is hybridization

AlphaGo is a narrow AI achievement. But it is a manifestation of broader trends which will bring us Artificial General Intelligence.

You can simulate millions of games a day at high speed but we cannot simulate the world at high speed.
Monte Carlo sampling only works with things that are game like and more contained.
However, you could simulate imprecisely or approximately.
With more sensing (widespread imaging) and trillions of sensors that could help get us closer to having information for simulations but that would be far beyond the 19 X 19 Go board.



Deep Mind Health partnering with NHS for a mobile app that helps doctors and nurses detect cases of acute kidney injury

DeepMind, a London-based "neuroscience-inspired AI company" bought by Google in January 2014, has launched DeepMind Health.

Working with leading kidney experts at the Royal Free Hospital in London, DeepMind Health has produced a mobile phone app called "Streams." It is designed to present "timely information that helps nurses and doctors detect cases of acute kidney injury" (AKI). DeepMind says that "AKI is a contributing factor in up to 20% of emergency hospital admissions as well as 40,000 deaths in the UK every year. Yet NHS England estimate that around 25% of cases are preventable."

To bolster the capabilities of Streams, DeepMind Health has just acquired the company behind Hark, a clinical task management app. "We are delighted to announce that the Hark team is planning to join forces with DeepMind Health so we can accelerate and scale their efforts to revolutionize task management in hospitals," said DeepMind. "We plan to integrate their work into Streams over the coming months."

This suggests that Streams will become a general clinical data and task management app.

DeepMind Health says that its data-sharing agreements with the NHS hospitals "ensure that patients' data will always be stored in the UK and won’t ever be linked or associated with Google accounts, products or services." It also says "data will only ever be used for the purposes of improving healthcare," but that would presumably include Google carrying out additional in-house analyses that might be relevant to that goal.

AlphaGo playing the top Go player of the past decade in five matches and has won the first match

AlphaGo, the first computer program to beat a professional Go player, is playing its first match with the legendary Lee Sedol—the top Go player of the past decade—in a five-game match in Seoul, Korea. Go is a profoundly complex game, which is why this has always been regarded as the outstanding grand challenge for artificial intelligence.

GO is far more complex than chess and an artificial intelligence beating the best human player would be a big milestone.

In October 2015, AlphaGo became the first computer program ever to beat a professional Go player by winning 5-0 against the reigning 3-times European Champion Fan Hui (2-dan pro). That work was featured in a front cover article in the science journal Nature in January 2016.

AlphaGo has won the first match against Lee Sedol.

AlphaGo uses a mix of deep neural network machine learning, and tree search techniques. DeepMind taught AlphaGo how to play the game by studying the play of human Go masters play. Instances of AlphaGo then played against each other many times. Having instances compete is reinforcement learning.

The matches will start at 8pm PST on these days:
March 8: First match - Won by AlphaGo
March 9: Second match
March 11: Third match
March 12: Fourth match
March 14: Fifth match

The matches will be played under Chinese rules with a komi of 7.5 (the compensation points the player who goes second receives at the end of the match). Each player will receive two hours per match with three lots of 60-second byoyomi (countdown periods after they have finished their allotted time). Each match is expected to take 4-5 hours.
The games will be even (no handicap), with $1 million USD in prize money for the winner. If AlphaGo wins, the prize money will be donated to UNICEF, STEM and Go societies.







March 08, 2016

Russian officials again talk about a working lab prototype megawatt class nuclear propulsion system by 2017

A Russian Megawatt-class nuclear propulsion system for long-range manned spacecraft must be ready by 2017, Skolkovo Foundation's Nuclear Cluster head Denis Kovalevich said on Wednesday.

“At present we are testing several types of fuel and later we will start drafting the design,” Kovalevich said. “The first parts [of the nuclear engine] should be built in 2013, and the engine is expected to be ready by 2017.”

The engine is being developed for interplanetary manned spacecraft to ensure that Russia maintains a competitive edge in the space race, including the exploration of the Moon and Mars.

The Russian government allocated 500 million rubles ($16.7 million) in 2010 to start a project to build a spacecraft with a nuclear engine. The overall investment in the project is estimated at 17 billion rubles (over $580 million) until 2019.

According to Russia’s nuclear power agency Rosatom, the development and construction of a nuclear propulsion system for spacecraft will cost over 7.2 billion rubles ($247 mln).

Nextbigfuture covered Russia's plans for a megawatt nuclear space propulsion system back in 2011.

It would have an ISP of 3000-6000. A 6000 ISP megawatt system might be able to send a compact unmanned probe to Mars in 6 weeks.

The adjustable VASIMR system had planned for a manned 200 MW system with variable ISP which could get to Mars in 39 days.

The role of space power in solving prospective problems in the interests of global safety, science and social economic sphere by А.S. Koroteev President of Russian Academy of Cosmonautics 2010 (19 pages)

A presentation discussed nuclear power sources for space up to 1 megawatt for flying to Mars, moon base power and for orbital tugs.

China's five year plan to 2020 is attempting to begin a shift from heavy industry to innovation driven development

China is attempting to decoupl economic growth from energy consumption in China's latest five year plan. The draft outline of the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) on national economy and social development was presented on Saturday to the Fourth Session of the 12th National People's Congress for review.

Central to the planned move away from heavy industry is a nationwide effort to reduce dependence on coal, the dirtiest fuel in terms of carbon emissions.

Indeed, China’s carbon emissions may have already peaked, according to a new report by economist Lord Stern to be published this week.

China still relies on coal for 64 per cent of its total energy consumption, but this is steadily falling, dropping by 3.7 per cent last year compared with 2014.

At the same time its installation of solar and wind energy is soaring by record levels, rising 74 and 34 per cent respectively last year compared with the previous year.

And it looks as if China is serious about continuing to phase out coal. It plans to introduce caps on coal consumption in its 10 most polluted cities, according to Barbara Finamore, the Asia director of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington DC. Capping targets have already been set by a further 20 provinces and 30 cities.

Many of China’s heavy industries are beginning to contract as demand from abroad for manufactured goods shrinks. “China’s steel sector is currently working at just 66 per cent of its capacity,” she says.

  • The new five-year plan includes $23 billion in funding to give workers in older industries new skills suited to modern “sunrise” sectors such as information communication, new energy, new materials, aviation, biological medicine and intelligent manufacturing.
  • China will fully implement the two child policy
  • Accelerate urbanization
  • Build up megacity regions in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta
  • Deploy 5G and other high speed internet infrastructure



Nanoscale rotor and gripper push DNA origami to new limits

Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have built two new nanoscale machines with moving parts, using DNA as a programmable, self-assembling construction material. In the journal Science Advances, they describe a rotor mechanism formed from interlocking 3-D DNA components. Another recent paper, in Nature Nanotechnology, reported a hinged molecular manipulator, also made from DNA. These are just the latest steps in a campaign to transform so-called "DNA origami" into an industrially useful, commercially viable technology.

Molecular manipulator made from DNA. Dietz Lab/TUM




Science Advances - Nanoscale rotary apparatus formed from tight-fitting 3D DNA components

US Nuclear industry increased safety equipment

The US nuclear industry has developed a three-phased approach to mitigating beyond-design-basis events.

More on-site portable equipment has been acquired to help ensure that every U.S. nuclear energy facility can respond safely to extreme events, no matter what the cause. The equipment ranges from diesel-driven pumps and electric generators to ventilation fans, hoses, fittings, cables and satellite communications gear. It also includes support materials for emergency responders. There is equipment sharing agreements between plants.

There is more equipment at centralized regional rapid response centers.

Nextbigfuture thinks that having inflatable containment structures that could be airlifted from the regional centers would be useful for situations like Fukushima where there was an ongoing radiation event. This would be like the pipe covers that have been created for any future deep water oil spill. Fukushima went on for months leaking radioactive material from the cooling ponds and the damaged reactor. Being able to created a larger cover over a breached containment building would localize the radiation problem. A localized problem then makes it more like any other industrial accident where the site ends up being a writeoff but it does not impact cities and people around it.

Phase 1

Companies would use permanently installed equipment as an initial means of responding to a serious event.

Phase 2
The phase two concept drove the acquisition and storage of portable equipment at each nuclear plant site to enhance the station’s coping strategies. Finally, phase three drove the enhancement of existing inter-utility support agreements and the development of independent, national response centers that house portable safety equipment that can be delivered to any nuclear plant site in America within 24 hours.


Phase 3

The nuclear industry jointly established an implementation plan for phase three. Led by the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations, inter-utility memorandums of understanding were updated to reflect the need to maintain an inventory of on-site, portable equipment that could be moved from site to site as required. The memorandums also re-enforced personnel support among utilities in need of specific expertise.




Continental Resources profitable at $40 per barrel oil

Continental Resources has reduced the average drilling time from spud to total depth by 23% last year, and also lowered the completion cost by 52% on a cost/foot basis. Continental has costs that are $35-45 per barrel.

The company will continue reducing costs, as it has implemented an enhanced stimulation design with higher proppant volumes at its 15 SCOOP Woodford condensate wells.

Continental's capital efficiency will increase 17% and finding costs will drop 15% in 2016.

They have implemented advanced drilling programs that have led to a drop in costs. Continental's wells have been able to improve their rates of return at core assets, such as the Bakken and the Eagle Ford.

80% of the oil is being sent out by pipelines which has lower costs than rail transportation.





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