New developments in nuclear fusion, zero-point energy, and the Fermi paradox
Keeping up with the pace of scientific discovery is getting harder and harder; either we really are approaching the Singularity, or I'm just getting old. In any case, I would fall woefully behind if it weren't for two excellent websites: Centauri dreams by Paul Gilster, and Brian Wang's Next Big Future. Both sites are firehoses of content, even more so (for my interests) than, say, slashdot. This week in particular they've presented a smorgasbord of cool ideas.
First, Paul talks about a recent paper studying the Drake equation (which attempts to deduce how many civilizations there are in the galaxy). People have speculated about this for decades; what the authors of this paper do is show using statistical analysis that even if the galaxy contains hundreds of communicating civilizations (CC's) they may never be able to find one another.
This could explain some things.
Next Big Future posts lots of really interesting pieces on technology; I have a particular interest in one endeavour, Robert Bussard's polywell fusion reactor. This week NBF has a great summary of where the US navy's stealth program to develop such a reactor is at. The science is encouraging; the levels of funding are not. Luckily Barack Obama's new technology czar seems to be aware of the work, so maybe things there will take off.
Even more intriguing are recent attempts to harness zero-point energy. I'd been playing with designs for a zero-point generator in my head for quite some time, and the patents talked about in this article are, physically, close to what I'd imagined. The mechanism by which it operates is very different, though.
A working zero-point generator would be more than revolutionary, partly because these devices could be made arbitrarily small. They could do far more than transform our civilization: I was thinking last night that you could build them into the mitochondria of a cell, making such pesky activities as eating and breathing unnecessary for maintaining positive energy flow. Even more than nanotechnology, this kind of zero-point energy makes anything possible.
Except... there's a problem here which is similar to the Fermi paradox. Life has evolved ways to play nanotechnological and quantum-mechanical tricks many times--chlorophyl's mode of action is a great example, as it depends on quantum-mechanical tricks to shift energy with maximum efficiency. So, if the tiny Casimir-effect devices being talked about now are possible, why didn't life stumble across the design sometime in the past 3.5 billion years? As with alien civilizations, one can validly ask, if they can exist, where are they?
Bookmark Centauri Dreams and Next Big Future. If the world is going to change overnight, they'll give you the heads-up the evening before.