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30/01/2023 18:02:08  

Satellite navigation systems for lunar settlements will require local atomic clocks. Scientists are working out what time they will keep. From a report: It's not obvious what form a universal lunar time would take. Clocks on Earth and the Moon naturally tick at different speeds, because of the differing gravitational fields of the two bodies. Official lunar time could be based on a clock system designed to synchronize with UTC, or it could be independent of Earth time. Representatives of space agencies and academic organizations worldwide met in November 2022 to start drafting recommendations on how to define lunar time at the European Space Research and Technology Centre of the European Space Agency (ESA) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Decisions must be made soon, says Patrizia Tavella, who leads the time department at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sevres, France. If an official lunar time is not established, space agencies and private companies will come up with their own solutions, she says. "This is why we want to raise an alert now, saying let's work together to take a common decision." The most pressing need for lunar time comes from plans to create a dedicated global satellite navigation system (GNSS) for the Moon, similar to how GPS and other satellite navigation networks enable precise location tracking on Earth. Space agencies plan to install this lunar GNSS from around 2030. ESA approved a lunar satellite navigation project called Moonlight at its ministerial council meeting on 22 and 23 November 2022 in Paris, and NASA established a similar project, called Lunar Communications Relay and Navigation Systems, last January. Until now, Moon missions have pinpointed their locations using radio signals sent to large antennas on Earth at scheduled times. But with dozens of missions planned, "there's just not enough resources to cover everybody," says Joel Parker, an engineer who works on lunar navigation at the Goddard Center.

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27/01/2023 08:01:28  

A small asteroid is flying very close to Earth on Thursday night, less than a week after astronomers discovered the object. The New York Times reports: The asteroid, named 2023 BU, was scheduled to pass over the southern tip of South America at 7:27 p.m. Eastern time. The asteroid is fairly small -- less than 30 feet across, about the size of a truck -- and will be best visible in the skies to the west of southern Chile. For space watchers unable to view 2023 BU firsthand, the Virtual Telescope Project will be broadcasting the event on its website and YouTube channel. The asteroid will not hit Earth but will make one of the closest approaches ever by such an object, hurtling past Earth at just 2,200 miles above its surface, according to a news release from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This encounter puts the asteroid "well within the orbit of geosynchronous satellites," the statement noted, but the asteroid is not on track to hit any. 2023 BU was unknown to NASA, or anyone, until last Saturday. Gennadiy Borisov, an amateur astronomer in Crimea, noticed the asteroid from the MARGO Observatory, a setup of telescopes that he has used to discover other interstellar objects. Astronomers then determined 2023 BU's orbit around the sun and impending trip past Earth using data from the Minor Planet Center, a project sanctioned by the International Astronomical Union. It publishes positions of newly found space objects, including comets and satellites, from information of several observatories worldwide.

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24/01/2023 22:00:50  

The United States plans to test a spacecraft engine powered by nuclear fission by 2027 as part of a long-term NASA effort to demonstrate more efficient methods of propelling astronauts to Mars in the future, the space agency's chief said Tuesday. From a report: NASA will partner with the U.S. military's research and development agency, DARPA, to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion engine and launch it to space "as soon as 2027," NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during a conference in National Harbor, Maryland.

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24/01/2023 15:00:55  

Much ink has been spilled of late about the tremendous promise of OpenAI's ChatGPT program for generating natural-language utterances in response to human prompts. The program strikes many people as so fresh and intriguing that ChatGPT must be unique in the universe. Scholars of AI beg to differ. From a report: "In terms of underlying techniques, ChatGPT is not particularly innovative," said Yann LeCun, Meta's chief AI scientist, in a small gathering of press and executives on Zoom last week. "It's nothing revolutionary, although that's the way it's perceived in the public," said LeCun. "It's just that, you know, it's well put together, it's nicely done." Such data-driven AI systems have been built in the past by many companies and research labs, said LeCun. The idea of OpenAI being alone in its type of work is inaccurate, he said. "OpenAI is not particularly an advance compared to the other labs, at all," said LeCun. "It's not only just Google and Meta, but there are half a dozen startups that basically have very similar technology to it," added LeCun. "I don't want to say it's not rocket science, but it's really shared, there's no secret behind it, if you will." LeCun noted the many ways in which ChatGPT, and the program upon which it builds, OpenAI's GPT-3, is composed of multiple pieces of technology developed over many years by many parties. "You have to realize, ChatGPT uses Transformer architectures that are pre-trained in this self-supervised manner," observed LeCun. "Self-supervised-learning is something I've been advocating for a long time, even before OpenAI existed," he said. "Transformers is a Google invention," noted LeCun, referring to the language neural net unveiled by Google in 2017, which has become the basis for a vast array of language programs, including GPT-3. The work on such language programs goes back decades, said LeCun.

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24/01/2023 08:00:43  

An exotic green comet that has not passed Earth since the time of the Neanderthals has reappeared in the sky ready for its closest approach to the planet next week. The Guardian reports: Discovered last March by astronomers at the Zwicky Transient Facility at the Palomar Observatory in California, comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was calculated to orbit the sun every 50,000 years, meaning it last tore past our home planet in the stone age. The comet, which comes from the Oort cloud at the edge of the solar system, will come closest to Earth on Wednesday and Thursday next week when it shoots past the planet at a distance of 2.5 light minutes -- a mere 27m miles. Comets are balls of primordial dust and ice that swing around the sun in giant elliptical orbits. As they approach the sun, the bodies warm up, turning surface ice into gas and dislodging dust. Together, this creates the cloud or coma which surrounds the comet's hard nucleus and the dusty tail that stretches out behind. Images already taken of comet C/2022 E3 reveal a subtle green glow that is thought to arise from the presence of diatomic carbon -- pairs of carbon atoms that are bound together -- in the head of the comet. The molecule emits green light when excited by the ultraviolet rays in solar radiation. Since mid-January, the comet has been easier to spot with a telescope or binoculars. It is visible in the northern hemisphere, clouds permitting, as the sky darkens in the evening, below and to the left of the handle of the Plough constellation. It is heading for a fly-by of the pole star, the brightest star in Ursa Minor, next week. The window for spotting the comet does not stay open long. While the best views may be had about February 1 and 2, by the middle of the month the comet will have dimmed again and slipped from view as it hurtles back out into the solar system on its return trip to the Oort cloud.

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23/01/2023 13:00:37  

"NASA's tiny Ingenuity helicopter now has 40 off-Earth flights under its belt," reports Space.com: The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity lifted off yet again on Thursday (Jan. 19), staying aloft for nearly 92 seconds on a sortie that covered about 584 feet (178 meters) of horizontal distance. The flight repositioned Ingenuity, moving it from "Airfield Z" on the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater to "Airfield Beta," according to the mission's flight log. That journey took the little chopper over some sand dunes, as imagery captured during the hop shows.... Ingenuity is a technology demonstrator designed to show that aerial exploration is possible on Mars despite the planet's thin atmosphere. The helicopter's prime mission covered just five flights, which Ingenuity knocked out shortly after touching down inside Jezero. The chopper then shifted into an extended mission, during which it has been pushing its flight capabilities and serving as a scout for Perseverance. The helicopter's aerial observations help the rover team identify potentially interesting scientific targets and pick the best routes through the rugged landscapes on Jezero's floor.

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22/01/2023 18:00:21  

The Los Angeles Times explores an interesting exercise in prognisticating about the future. In 2018 robotics entrepreneur Rodney Brooks made a list of predictions about hot tech topics like robots, space travel, and AI, "and promised to review them every year until Jan. 1, 2050, when, if he's still alive, he will have just turned 95." His goal was to "inject some reality into what I saw as irrational exuberance." Each prediction carried a time frame — something would either have occurred by a given date, or no earlier than a given date, or "not in my lifetime." Brooks published his fifth annual scorecard on New Year's Day. The majority of his predictions have been spot-on, though this time around he confessed to thinking that he, too, had allowed hype to make him too optimistic about some developments.... People have been "trained by Moore's Law" to expect technologies to continue improving at ever-faster rates, Brooks told me.... That tempts people, even experts, to underestimate how difficult it may be to reach a chosen goal, whether self-aware robots or living on Mars. "They don't understand how hard it might have been to get there," he told me, "so they assume that it will keep getting better and better...." This year, 14 of his original predictions are deemed accurate, whether because they happened within the time frame he projected or failed to happen before the deadline he set. Among them are driverless package delivery services in a major U.S. city, which he predicted wouldn't happen before 2023; it hasn't happened yet. On space travel and space tourism, he predicted a suborbital launch of humans by a private company would happen by 2018; Virgin Atlantic beat the deadline with such a flight on Dec. 13, 2018. He conjectured that space flights with a few handfuls of paying customers wouldn't happen before 2020; regular flights at a rate of more than once a week not before 2022 (though perhaps by 2026); and the transport of two paying customers around the moon no earlier than 2020. All those deadlines have passed, making the predictions accurate. Only three flights with paying customers happened in 2022, showing there's "a long way to go to get to sub-weekly flights," Brooks observes. "My current belief is that things will go, overall, even slower than I thought five years ago," Brooks writes. "That is not to say that there has not been great progress in all three fields, but it has not been as overwhelmingly inevitable as the tech zeitgeist thought on January 1st, 2018." (For example, Brooks writes that self-driving taxis are "decades away from profitability".) And this year he's also graced us with new predictions responding to current hype: "The metaverse ain't going anywhere, despite the tens of billions of dollars poured in. If anything like the metaverse succeeds it will from a new small player, a small team, that is not yoked down by an existing behemoth." " Crypto, as in all the currencies out there now, are going to fade away and lose their remaining value. Crypto may rise again but it needs a new set of algorithms and capability for scaling. The most likely path is that existing national currencies will morph into crypto currency as contactless payment become common in more and more countries. It may lead to one of the existing national currencies becoming much more accessible world wide. "No car company is going to produce a humanoid robot that will change manufacturing at all. Dexterity is a long way off, and innovations in manufacturing will take very different functional and process forms, perhaps hardly seeming at all like a robot from popular imagination." " Large language models may find a niche, but they are not the foundation for generally intelligent systems. Their novelty will wear off as people try to build real scalable systems with them and find it very difficult to deliver on the hype." "There will be human drivers on our roads for decades to come." And Brooks had this to say about ChatGPT. "People are making the same mistake that they have made again and again and again, completely misjudging some new AI demo as the sign that everything in the world has changed. It hasn't."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

22/01/2023 13:00:19  

The Los Angeles Times explores an interesting exercise in prognisticating about the future. In 2018 robotics entrepreneur Rodney Brooks made a list of predictions about hot tech topics like robots, space travel, and AI, "and promised to review them every year until Jan. 1, 2050, when, if he's still alive, he will have just turned 95." His goal was to "inject some reality into what I saw as irrational exuberance." Each prediction carried a time frame — something would either have occurred by a given date, or no earlier than a given date, or "not in my lifetime." Brooks published his fifth annual scorecard on New Year's Day. The majority of his predictions have been spot-on, though this time around he confessed to thinking that he, too, had allowed hype to make him too optimistic about some developments.... People have been "trained by Moore's Law" to expect technologies to continue improving at ever-faster rates, Brooks told me.... That tempts people, even experts, to underestimate how difficult it may be to reach a chosen goal, whether self-aware robots or living on Mars. "They don't understand how hard it might have been to get there," he told me, "so they assume that it will keep getting better and better...." This year, 14 of his original predictions are deemed accurate, whether because they happened within the time frame he projected or failed to happen before the deadline he set. Among them are driverless package delivery services in a major U.S. city, which he predicted wouldn't happen before 2023; it hasn't happened yet. On space travel and space tourism, he predicted a suborbital launch of humans by a private company would happen by 2018; Virgin Atlantic beat the deadline with such a flight on Dec. 13, 2018. He conjectured that space flights with a few handfuls of paying customers wouldn't happen before 2020; regular flights at a rate of more than once a week not before 2022 (though perhaps by 2026); and the transport of two paying customers around the moon no earlier than 2020. All those deadlines have passed, making the predictions accurate. Only three flights with paying customers happened in 2022, showing there's "a long way to go to get to sub-weekly flights," Brooks observes. "My current belief is that things will go, overall, even slower than I thought five years ago," Brooks writes. "That is not to say that there has not been great progress in all three fields, but it has not been as overwhelmingly inevitable as the tech zeitgeist thought on January 1st, 2018." (For example, Brooks writes that self-driving taxis are "decades away from profitability".) And this year he's also graced us with new predictions responding to current hype: "The metaverse ain't going anywhere, despite the tens of billions of dollars poured in. If anything like the metaverse succeeds it will from a new small player, a small team, that is not yoked down by an existing behemoth." " Crypto, as in all the currencies out there now, are going to fade away and lose their remaining value. Crypto may rise again but it needs a new set of algorithms and capability for scaling. The most likely path is that existing national currencies will morph into crypto currency as contactless payment become common in more and more countries. It may lead to one of the existing national currencies becoming much more accessible world wide. "No car company is going to produce a humanoid robot that will change manufacturing at all. Dexterity is a long way off, and innovations in manufacturing will take very different functional and process forms, perhaps hardly seeming at all like a robot from popular imagination." " Large language models may find a niche, but they are not the foundation for generally intelligent systems. Their novelty will wear off as people try to build real scalable systems with them and find it very difficult to deliver on the hype." "There will be human drivers on our roads for decades to come." And Brooks had this to say about ChatGPT. "People are making the same mistake that they have made again and again and again, completely misjudging some new AI demo as the sign that everything in the world has changed. It hasn't."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

19/01/2023 22:00:00  

Last week, Reed Wilen, an elite gamer who uses the handle "Chicago" in Rocket League, a popular vehicular-soccer game, encountered a strange and troubling new opponent. From a report: The player seemed like a novice at first, moving their rocket-powered vehicle in a hesitant and awkward way. Then they caught and balanced the ball perfectly on the hood of their car, and dribbled it with superhuman skill towards the goal at high speed. Not only was the other driver clearly a bot -- it was also ridiculously good. "It is very confusing to play against," Wilen says. "Its perfect dribbling would cause havoc on almost every player." Wilen is one of a number of elite Rocket League players to have recently encountered the bot in competitive play. It is not yet good enough to beat all comers, but it can play to a high level, allowing less skilled players to cheat their way to a higher ranking. Rocket League is frenetic and extremely tricky to play. Each player controls a car capable of impossible acrobatics inside an arena where gravity and physics are apparently set to ludicrous mode. The objective is to use your vehicle to maneuver a giant ball past your opponent and into their goal, a task that requires considerable skill and patience. Sometimes two players work together as a team, making huge leaps, desperate parries, and accidentally colliding, all while trying to anticipate and counter their opponents' own antics. Top Rocket League players will often launch their cars through the air to move the ball toward the goal, but Wilen says the bot he faced appears to have been trained specifically to carry it on the ground. "The bot doesn't really flip around too often and doesn't jump in the air," he says, apparently because it hasn't been programmed to, or learned how to do so. "Instead, it waits for the ball to come down, where it catches it on top of the car and performs a perfect dribble towards the opposing team's net," Wilen says. The bot that Wilen and others have come up against is called Nexto. It picked up the ability to dribble and score using an artificial intelligence approach known as reinforcement learning, which has underpinned research breakthroughs that let computers master other difficult games such as Go and Starcraft. The technique has also been applied to more practical areas, including chip design and data center cooling in recent years. Reinforcement learning entails creating a program that can perform a task at a basic level and improve by responding to feedback as it practices. The company behind Rocket League, Psyonix, part of Epic Games, allows players to deploy bots to practice against. In 2020 it made an application programming interface (API) available to help developers build bots more easily. Last April, a group of Rocket League enthusiasts with coding skills announced RLGym, an open source library for building reinforcement-learning bots for Rocket League. Later in the year, the group released several open source AI bots -- including an especially skilled dribbler called Nexto.

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