Sleepless nights for Psyche, the light on the animal world and the robot who thought he was human

“What happens if your rocket explodes during flight?” had a high school student asked him. “Can you start again?” “Oh noLindy Elkins-Tanton kindly replied. In the world we live in, a $ 800 million space mission is not being remade. “ The question was relevant to say the least, because the spectrum of a disaster haunts the nights of the director of the Psyche program sponsored by NASA to send in late September a probe to meet a 200-kilometer-diameter asteroid rotating between Mars and Jupiter .

Slate narrates these remarks in a beautiful excerpt, human and didactic, from Portrait of a scientist as a young woman “, Memoirs of Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a professor at Arizona State University and renowned specialist in planet formation. This geologist, assigned to the conquest of space, simply explains to us what it means to send a robot to land, after more than three years of travel, on a rock invisible from Earth. The asteroid Psyche would be made entirely of metal. It is a valuable witness to the birth of our solar system and the most easily observable sample of a metallic core similar to the one occupying the center of the planet Earth. Only 3,000 kilometers under our feet, but forever inaccessible.

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Lighting

Every year, on the evening of September 11, when New York illuminates the site of the World Trade Center’s defunct Twin Towers, the two powerful rays of light are quickly obscured by mysterious black spots. They are birds, hundreds of birds, which during their great autumn migration were stopped by the 44 bulbs with a power of 7,000 watts, which are used up to turn in circles. When their number exceeds a thousand, the municipal services turn off these headlights for twenty minutes to let them continue their journey.

This concern is rare. Ed Yong, the admirable science journalist Atlantic Ocean, gives many other examples of the ravages which the light of human civilization has inflicted on the animal world. Every year in the United States, six million birds crash into overly illuminated electricity pylons. At night the turtle cubs go to the massacre and confuse the glow of the road under the lampposts with the light hue of the sea, but nothing was needed to avoid this planetary plague: pears are no longer fixed but flash on the work of ‘art; red street lights instead of white LEDs that attract animals …

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Cougar Bridge

Other complaints from our animal friends have been heard in the White House. Joe Biden’s infrastructure renovation plan, adopted in November, provides $ 350 million in public funds for the construction of sheltered passages, footbridges or tunnels that allow animals to cross highways. Every day, remind MIT Technology Review, one million vertebrates of all species pass under the wheels of cars in the United States. In Los Angeles, a new $ 90 million wide $ 40 million bridge will soon span the ten lanes of Highway 101 to connect two mountain lion reserves.

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Fired by Elon

SpaceX employees are tired of their bosses, Elon Musks, lying on social networks, a source in their eyes “Distraction and [d’] embarrassment”. that New York Times recalls in this regard Musk’s rather lenient comments on Twitter following the allegations of sexual harassment against him by a flight attendant, his political views that increasingly benefit the pro-Trump camp, prompting a letter from staff to management that was spread in the space operator’s internal mailbox. In response, SpaceX identified and fired the leaders of the sling. With even more interest, we will listen to Elon Musk’s lively calls to defend freedom of expression.

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Lemoine and LaMDA

One of Google’s engineers, a man named Blake Lemoine, was asked by his superiors to rest, he said. washington post. Lemoine, who works on the artificial intelligence program LaMDA, which specializes in the reproduction of human language, is convinced that this chatbot, this “conversation assistant” who was supposed to answer questions from the public, has reached a level so that it is endowed with reason that he has a conscience and an intelligence comparable to that of his human interlocutors. LaMDA, of course, discusses with him the famous “three laws of robotics” adopted by the author Isaac Asimov, confiding the feelings, the compassion he feels for the injustice that Fantine, Cosette’s mother, experiences in Miserable and admits that his worst existential fear would be to turn it off and thus bring the idea of ​​death to the fore.

The management of Google, she minimizes the robot’s skill and claims that the engineer is being misused by the masses of data that LaMDA dumps during his conversations. His “culture” would therefore not correspond to a conscience … Blake Lemoine also has the very human gift of annoying his bosses. He sought to hire a lawyer to provide legal representation for the LaMDA and contacted a member of Congress to complain about Google’s ethical shortcomings in its work on artificial intelligence.

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