DEAL: For $25 - Add A Second Phone Number To Your Smartphone for life! Use promo code SLASHDOT25. Also, Slashdot's Facebook page has a chat bot now. Message it for stories and more. Check out the new SourceForge HTML5 internet speed test! ×
Mars

SpaceX Disappointed In Lack of NASA Mars Funding; Starts Looking For Landing Sites For Its Own Mars Missions 102

frank249 writes: Elon Musk says that the new NASA authorization legislation "changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars." From a report via Ars Technica: "Musk is absolutely correct on two counts. First, an 'authorization' bill does not provide funding. That comes from appropriations committees. Secondly, while Congress has been interested in building rockets and spacecraft, it is far less interested in investing in the kinds of technology and research that would actually enable a full-fledged Mars exploration program." In other news, SpaceNews reports that "SpaceX has been working with NASA to identify potential landing sites on Mars for both its Red Dragon spacecraft (starting in 2020) and future human missions." From the report: "Paul Wooster of SpaceX said the company, working with scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and elsewhere, had identified several potential landing sites, including one that looks particularly promising -- Arcadia Planitia. Those landing sites are of particular interest, he said, for SpaceX's long-term vision of establishing a human settlement on Mars, but he said the company wouldn't rule out sending Red Dragon spacecraft elsewhere on the planet to serve other customers. 'We're quite open to making use of this platform to take various payloads to other locations as well,' he said. 'We're really looking to turn this into a steady cadence, where we're sending Dragons to Mars on basically every opportunity.' The Red Dragon spacecraft, he said, could carry about one ton of useful payload to Mars, with options for those payloads to remain in the capsule after landing or be deployed on the surface. 'SpaceX is a transportation company,' he said. 'We transport cargo to the space station, we deliver payloads to orbit, so we're very happy to deliver payloads to Mars.'" Fans of the book/movie "The Martian" would be happy if SpaceX does select Arcadia Planitia for their first landing site as that was the landing site of the Ares 3.
Biotech

Tech Billionaires Invest In Linking Brains To Computers (technologyreview.com) 77

"To many in Silicon Valley, the brain looks like an unconquered frontier whose importance dwarfs any achievement made in computing or the Web," including Bryan Johnson, the founder of Braintree online payments, and Elon Musk. An anonymous reader quotes MIT Technology Review: Johnson is effectively jumping on an opportunity created by the Brain Initiative, an Obama-era project which plowed money into new schemes for recording neurons. That influx of cash has spurred the formation of several other startups, including Paradromics and Cortera, also developing novel hardware for collecting brain signals. As part of the government brain project, the defense R&D agency DARPA says it is close to announcing $60 million in contracts under a program to create a "high-fidelity" brain interface able to simultaneously record from one million neurons (the current record is about 200) and stimulate 100,000 at a time...

According to neuroscientists, several figures from the tech sector are currently scouring labs across the U.S. for technology that might fuse human and artificial intelligence. In addition to Johnson, Elon Musk has been teasing a project called "neural lace," which he said at a 2016 conference will lead to "symbiosis with machines." And Mark Zuckerberg declared in a 2015 Q&A that people will one day be able to share "full sensory and emotional experiences," not just photos. Facebook has been hiring neuroscientists for an undisclosed project at Building 8, its secretive hardware division.

Elon Musk complains that the current speeds for transferring signals from brains are "ridiculously slow".
AI

Ray Kurzweil On How We'll End Up Merging With Our Technology (foxnews.com) 161

Mr.Intel quotes a report from Fox News: "By 2029, computers will have human-level intelligence," Kurzweil said in an interview at the SXSW Conference with Shira Lazar and Amy Kurzweil Comix. Known as the Singularity, the event is oft discussed by scientists, futurists, technology stalwarts and others as a time when artificial intelligence will cause machines to become smarter than human beings. The time frame is much sooner than what other stalwarts have said, including British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, as well as previous predictions from Kurzweil, who said it may occur as soon as 2045. Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son, who recently acquired ARM Holdings with the intent on being one of the driving forces in the Singularity, has previously said it could happen in the next 30 years. Kurzweil apparently ins't worried about the rise in machine learning and artificial intelligence. In regard to AI potentially enslaving humanity, Kurzweil said, "That's not realistic. We don't have one or two AIs in the world. Today we have billions." He shares a similar view with Elon Musk by saying that humans need to converge with machines, pointing out the work already being done in Parkinson's patients. "They're making us smarter," Kurzeil said during the SXSW interview. "They may not yet be inside our bodies, but, by the 2030s, we will connect our neocortex, the part of our brain where we do our thinking, to the cloud... We're going to be funnier, we're going to be better at music. We're going to be sexier. We're really going to exemplify all the things that we value in humans to a greater degree." You can watch the full interview on Facebook.
Businesses

Tesla To Raise Over $1.15 Billion To Help Offset Risk For Model 3 Production (techcrunch.com) 86

Tesla is looking to raise a total of around $1.15 billion from stock and convertible senior notes as a way to help "further reduce any risks" that it'll incur as it scales its business to handle its aggressive Model 3 production schedule, the company said. From a report: Tesla's decision to pad out its balance sheet with more capital was anticipated by many analysts, and a fair number of Wall Street watchers actually thought Tesla would seek more to help it grow based on recent comments made by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The Model 3 is set to begin full production this year, with pre-production begun in February with a temporary production line pause to help get processes at its Fremont factory ready for the new vehicle. The split of the new funding efforts will see Tesla pursue $250 million in common stock offering, with $750 million raised via convertible notes due in 2022. Elon Musk himself will personally contribute by buying $25 million in Tesla stock.
Businesses

Hyperloop One Reveals Test Track Progress (computerworld.com.au) 222

Hyperloop One has released the first photographs of its "proof of concept" test track near Las Vegas, Nevada, and there's now also a couple short videos online. Slashdot reader angry tapir quotes Computerworld: The company revealed its progress on Tuesday at the Middle East Rail conference in Dubai, sharing pictures and footage of its Nevada development site dubbed "DevLoop." Taking Elon Musk's Hyperloop concept of a levitating pod in a low-pressure tube, Hyperloop One has developed what is so far the only full-scale, full-system Hyperloop test site...and says it plans to test the entire apparatus this year.
In addition, Investopedia reports that Hyperloop One has now also signed letter of intent agreements to investigate the feasibility of building more hyperloop systems in Finland and the Netherlands.
Space

Jeff Bezos' Spaceflight Company Blue Origin Gets Its First Paying Customer (nytimes.com) 32

Long-time Slashdot reader nickovs writes: Blue Origin was started as a "moon shot" company by Jeff Bezos and recently claimed that it would be offering an "Amazon-like" delivery service to the moon by 2020. In the mean time it seems their customers will be slightly closer to Earth: this week they announced that they now have a paying customer in the form of the satellite TV company Eutelsat. While this isn't a huge technical milestone, it is a major business milestone, turning Blue Origin from a hobby business into one which might eventually make a profit. According to a New York Times article, "The commercial partnership brings Blue Origin closer in line with SpaceX, created by Elon Musk, which has been launching satellites and taking NASA cargo to the International Space Station for several years."
Meanwhile, SpaceX announced last week that two space tourists have already put down "a significant deposit" for a week-long trip around the moon at the end of 2018, adding "Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow."
Power

Elon Musk: I Can Fix South Australia Power Network in 100 Days Or It's Free (theguardian.com) 274

An anonymous reader shares a report on The Guardian: Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of electric car giant Tesla, has thrown down a challenge to the South Australian and federal governments, saying he can solve the state's energy woes within 100 days -- or he'll deliver the 100MW battery storage system for free. On Thursday, Lyndon Rive, Tesla's vice-president for energy products, told the AFR the company could install the 100-300 megawatt hours of battery storage that would be required to prevent the power shortages that have been causing price spikes and blackouts in the state. Thanks to stepped-up production out of Tesla's new Gigafactory in Nevada, he said it could be achieved within 100 days. Mike Cannon-Brookes, the Australian co-founder of Silicon Valley startup Atlassian, on Friday tweeted Elon Musk, asking if Tesla was serious about being able to install the capacity. Musk replied that the company could do it in 100 days of the contract being signed, or else provide it free, adding: "That serious enough for you?"
Transportation

Hyperloop Firm Eyes Indonesia For Ultra-Fast Transport System (cnbc.com) 58

An anonymous reader shares a CNBC report: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), one of the companies developing the futuristic transport service dreamed up by billionaire Elon Musk, said it was exploring Indonesia as a potential site to put one of its tracks. The so-called "feasibility study" contract is worth $2.5 million and will look into whether a hyperloop system would work initially in the capital Jakarta, and then connecting Java and Sumatra. A hyperloop would work by propelling pods through a large tube at speeds of 750 mph using magnets. It is seen as a solution to long distance travel, but also alleviating congestion in many cities. Jakarta is the world's third-worst city for traffic, according to a study by navigation from TomTom released earlier this year.
Advertising

Elon Musk Agrees To Hold Contest For Fan-Made Tesla Ads, At the Urging of a 5th Grader (adweek.com) 28

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Adweek: Elon Musk is well aware that Tesla's superfans love to make unauthorized commercials for the brand, given that Tesla doesn't make its own (and, given the power of word of mouth, doesn't really need to). But it has taken a fifth-grade girl to convince him to actually run a fan-made ad. "Dear Elon Musk, I'm Bria from Ms. Esparza's 5th grade class," she wrote to the Tesla founder in a letter that her father (a writer for InsideEVs.com) also posted to Twitter. "I have noticed that you do not advertise, but many people make homemade commercials for Tesla and some of them are very good, they look professional and they are entertaining. So, I think that you should run a competition on who can make the best homemade Tesla commercial and the winners will get their commercial aired." Within an hour of the Twitter post, Musk -- who apparently is as smart as a fifth grader -- brightened to the idea. "Thank you for the lovely letter. That sounds like a great idea. We'll do it!" he wrote. Two of the fan-made, cinematography-rich commercials mentioned in the report include the 2014 spot called "Modern Spaceship," and "Fireflies," which was directed by Parachute's Sam O'Hare. What's particularly neat about the "Fireflies" ad is that it was completely CGI.
Businesses

Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin To Offer 'Amazon-Like' Moon Delivery By 2020 (geekwire.com) 76

Less than a week after Elon Musk's SpaceX announced it would soon offer space tourists a cruise around the moon, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has announced that he would be launching an Amazon-like service shipping supplies, experiments, and crew to the Moon by 2020. From a report: Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space venture has proposed sending a robotic lander to the moon's south polar region by 2020, as an initial step toward an "Amazon-like" lunar delivery system and eventually a permanently inhabited moon base. The report says the company's seven-page proposal, dated Jan. 4, has been circulating among NASA's leadership and President Donald Trump's transition team. It's only one of several proposals aimed at turning the focus of exploration beyond Earth orbit to the moon and its environs during Trump's term.
AI

AI Scientists Gather to Plot Doomsday Scenarios (bloomberg.com) 126

Dina Bass, reporting for Bloomberg: Artificial intelligence boosters predict a brave new world of flying cars and cancer cures. Detractors worry about a future where humans are enslaved to an evil race of robot overlords. Veteran AI scientist Eric Horvitz and Doomsday Clock guru Lawrence Krauss, seeking a middle ground, gathered a group of experts in the Arizona desert to discuss the worst that could possibly happen -- and how to stop it. Their workshop took place last weekend at Arizona State University with funding from Tesla co-founder Elon Musk and Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn. Officially dubbed "Envisioning and Addressing Adverse AI Outcomes," it was a kind of AI doomsday games that organized some 40 scientists, cyber-security experts and policy wonks into groups of attackers -- the red team -- and defenders -- blue team -- playing out AI-gone-very-wrong scenarios, ranging from stock-market manipulation to global warfare.
Robotics

'Robots Won't Just Take Our Jobs -- They'll Make the Rich Even Richer' (theguardian.com) 644

Robotics and artificial intelligence will continue to improve -- but without political change such as a tax, the outcome will range from bad to apocalyptic, writes technology and politics journalist Ben Tarnoff, citing experts and studies, for The Guardian. From the article, shared by six anonymous readers: Despite a steady stream of alarming headlines about clever computers gobbling up our jobs, the economic data suggests that automation isn't happening on a large scale. The bad news is that if it does, it will produce a level of inequality that will make present-day America look like an egalitarian utopia by comparison. The real threat posed by robots isn't that they will become evil and kill us all, which is what keeps Elon Musk up at night -- it's that they will amplify economic disparities to such an extreme that life will become, quite literally, unlivable for the vast majority. A robot tax may or may not be a useful policy tool for averting this scenario. But it's a good starting point for an important conversation. Mass automation presents a serious political problem -- one that demands a serious political solution. Automation isn't new. In the late 16th century, an English inventor developed a knitting machine known as the stocking frame. By hand, workers averaged 100 stitches per minute; with the stocking frame, they averaged 1,000. This is the basic pattern, repeated through centuries: as technology improves, it reduces the amount of labor required to produce a certain number of goods. So far, however, this phenomenon hasn't produced extreme unemployment. That's because automation can create jobs as well as destroy them. What's different this time is the possibility that technology will become so sophisticated that there won't be anything left for humans to do. What if your ATM could not only give you a hundred bucks, but sell you an adjustable-rate mortgage?
Moon

SpaceX Plans To Send Two People Around the Moon In 2018 (gizmodo.com) 195

Today, SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced that in 2018, the company will fly two private citizens around the Moon in its Dragon 2 spacecraft, carried by its Falcon Heavy rocket. "While the voyagers' names have not been disclosed, according to SpaceX, a 'significant deposit' has already been made," Gizmodo reports. From the report: According to Musk, the mission will last approximately one week. The passengers will travel beyond the moon and loop back to Earth, spanning roughly 300,000 to 400,000 miles. While the passengers will undergo some sort of training beforehand, it's unclear if the two have any experience with piloting, nevermind spaceflight. The mission, although unrelated to NASA's plan to slingshot astronauts around the Moon in several years' time using the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule, was made possible in part by funding SpaceX has received to develop its human spaceflight technology through the commercial crew program. "This is a really thing that's happened," Elon Musk told reporters at a press conference. "We've been approached to do a crewed mission beyond the Moon ... [and these passengers] are very serious about it. We plan to do that probably Dragon 2 spacecraft with the Falcon Heavy rocket." He went on to say the company is "expected to do more than one mission of this nature."
Moon

How To Get Back To the Moon In 4 Years -- This Time To Stay (scientificamerican.com) 355

Scientific American describes "a way to get to the Moon and to stay there permanently...to begin this process immediately and to achieve moon landings in less than four years." It starts by abandoning NASA's expensive Space Launch System and Orion capsule, and spending the money saved on private-industry efforts like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Robert Bigelow's Bigelow Aerospace. schwit1 quotes their report: Musk's rockets -- the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy -- are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What's more, SpaceX's upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth's surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready...

Major segments of the space community want every future landing to add to a permanent infrastructure in the sky. And that's within our grasp thanks to Robert Bigelow... Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow's been developing something far more ambitious -- an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules.

The article calls Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin rockets "a wild car" which could also land passengers and cargo on the moon and suggests NASA would be better off funding things like lunar-surface refueling stations, lunar construction equipment, and "devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen."
Transportation

Did Silicon Valley Lose The Race To Build Self-Driving Cars? (autoblog.com) 130

schwit1 quotes Autoblog: Up until very recently the talk in Silicon Valley was about how the tech industry was going to broom Detroit into the dustbin of history. Companies such as Apple, Google, and Uber -- so the thinking went -- were going to out run, out gun, and out innovate the automakers. Today that talk is starting to fade. There's a dawning realization that maybe there's a good reason why the traditional car companies have been around for more than a century.

Last year Apple laid off most of the engineers it hired to design its own car. Google (now Waymo) stopped talking about making its own car. And Uber, despite its sky high market valuation, is still a long, long way from ever making any money, much less making its own autonomous cars. To paraphrase Elon Musk, Silicon Valley is learning that "Making rockets is hard, but making cars is really hard."

The article argues the big auto-makers launched "vigorous in-house autonomous programs" which became fully competitive with Silicon Valley's efforts, and that Silicon Valley may have a larger role crunching the data that's collected from self-driving cars. "Last year in the U.S. market alone Chevrolet collected 4,220 terabytes of data from customer's cars... Retailers, advertisers, marketers, product planners, financial analysts, government agencies, and so many others will eagerly pay to get access to that information."
Transportation

Tesla Is So Sure Its Cars Are Safe That It Now Offers Insurance For Life (mashable.com) 171

In the self-driving future envisioned by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, car owners might be saying "goodbye" to a whole lot more than steering wheels. From a Mashable report: Musk is so sure of the safety features bundled into Tesla vehicles that his company has begun offering some customers a lifetime insurance and maintenance package at the time of purchase. No more monthly insurance bills. No more unexpected repair costs. "We've been doing it quietly," Tesla President of Global Sales and Service Jonathan McNeill explained on the call, "but in Asia in particular where we started this, now the majority of Tesla cars are sold with an insurance product that is customized to Tesla, that takes into account not only the Autopilot safety features but also the maintenance costs of the car." "It's our vision in the future that we'll be able to offer a single price for the car, maintenance and insurance in a really compelling offering for the consumer," added McNeill. "And we're currently doing that today."
Businesses

Elon Musk Is Really Boring (bloomberg.com) 226

Sometimes it is hard to tell if Elon Musk is serious about the things he says. But as for his "boring" claims, that's really happening. In a wide-range interview with Bloomberg, the billionaire talked more about his new venture, The Boring Company. The idea began on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago when Musk tweeted, "Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging..." Over the course of next few hours later, Musk added, "It shall be called 'The Boring Company,' Boring, it's what we do. I am actually going to do this. Excerpts from the story: And so, around noon on a Friday in January, an excavation crew started digging. "I was like, 'Hey, what's the biggest hole we can make by Sunday evening?'" Musk says. [...] "My other idea was to call it Tunnels R Us and to essentially troll Toys "R" Us into filing a lawsuit," he says, letting out a loud and well-articulated ha-ha-ha-ha. "Now we've decided to troll AT&T instead! We're going to call it American Tubes and Tunnels." When I ask him if the tunnel venture will be a subsidiary of SpaceX or an independent company, he responds cryptically. "Don't you read my Twitter? The Boring Company. Or TBC. To Be Continued." An aide chimes in: Yes, the Boring Company, aka To Be Continued, aka Tunnels R Us, aka American Tubes and Tunnels, aka whatever, will indeed be an independent company. Tunnel technology is older than rockets, and boring speeds are pretty much what they were 50 years ago. Musk says he hopes to build a much faster tunneling machine and use it to dig thousands of miles, eventually creating a vast underground network that includes as many as 30 levels of tunnels for cars and high-speed trains such as the Hyperloop. Musk chose the SpaceX parking lot as the site of his first dig, mostly because it was convenient and he could legally do so without city permits. The plan is to expand the current hole into a ramp designed for a large tunnel boring machine and then start digging horizontally once the machine is 50 feet or so below ground, which would make it low enough to clear gas and sewer lines and to be undetectable at the surface. 100 marks to Bloomberg for the headline, and the story which is as funny as it is insightful.
Robotics

Elon Musk: Humans Need To Merge With Machines Else They Will Become Irrelevant in AI Age (cnbc.com) 251

Billionaire Elon Musk is known for his futuristic ideas. So it didn't come as a surprise when on Monday at the World Government Summit in Dubai, he predicted that over time we will see a "closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence." He added, via a CNBC report: "It's mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output." Musk explained what he meant by saying that computers can communicate at "a trillion bits per second", while humans, whose main communication method is typing with their fingers via a mobile device, can do about 10 bits per second. In an age when AI threatens to become widespread, humans would be useless, so there's a need to merge with machines, according to Musk. "Some high bandwidth interface to the brain will be something that helps achieve a symbiosis between human and machine intelligence and maybe solves the control problem and the usefulness problem," Musk explained.
Businesses

Tesla Employee Calls For Unionization, Musk Says That's 'Morally Outrageous' (arstechnica.com) 594

"In a Medium post published today, Tesla employee Jose Moran detailed working conditions at the company's Freemont factory and called for the factory workers to unionize with United Auto Workers (UAW)," reports Ars Technica. In response, Elon Musk told Gizmodo via Twitter Direct Messages: "Our understanding is that this guy was paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a union. Frankly, I find this attack to be morally outrageous. Tesla is the last car company left in California, because costs are so high." Musk went on to blame the UAW for killing the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc (NUMMI), which sold the Fremont factory to Musk in 2010. Ars Technica reports: Tesla currently employs more than 5,000 non-union workers at its Fremont, CA-based factory. Moran wrote that the workers are often faced with "excessive mandatory overtime" and earn between $17 and $21 hourly, compared with the national average of $25.58 hourly for most autoworkers in the U.S. The Tesla employee noted that the astronomical cost of living in the Bay Area makes $21 an hour difficult to live on. Moran also claimed that the factory's "machinery is often not ergonomically compatible with our bodies," and requires "too much twisting and turning and extra physical movement to do jobs that could be simplified if workers' input were welcomed." He added that at one point, six out of eight people on his team were out on medical leave "due to various work-related injuries."
Transportation

Tesla To Start Pilot Production of Model 3 This Month (reuters.com) 112

According to Reuters, Tesla is planning to "begin test-building its Model 3 sedans on February 20, a move that could allay concerns about the company meeting its target to start production in July." The sources familiar with the matter did not mention how many of the Model 3 vehicles Tesla aims to build in February, though the number is likely to be small to test the assembly system and the quality of vehicle parts. From the report: Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk last year told investors and more than 370,000 customers who put deposits down for a Model 3 that he intended to start building the cars in July 2017. At the time, many analysts and suppliers said the timeline was too ambitious and would be difficult to achieve, pointing to Tesla's history of missing aggressive production targets. If Tesla succeeds in starting pilot production of the sedan at its factory in Fremont, California on Feb. 20, the company would be able to share the news with shareholders two days later when it reports fourth-quarter results and better answer any questions about the Model 3 rollout. Musk had told investors last year that the company could miss the July 2017 startup target if suppliers do not meet deadlines.

Slashdot Top Deals