Thursday, 18 August 2011

Getting past the giggle factor

$500,000 as seed-funding for interstellar travel — not for a starship, but for a long-term programme “to begin studying what it would take — organizationally, technically, sociologically and ethically”. DARPA and NASA are behind this, but the work itself, and the carriage of the issue (and the financing) is meant to be done by others for the time being, which is to say, for a very long time.

I'm quite impressed by this:

(1) This is the sort of long-distance thinking and investment that public institutions should sponsor, but the sponsorship that's foreseen here is modest and one-off: this money, together with some meetings to organise and incubate discussion among those interested, and amongst contenders for the funds. It seems as though they have got the level of public involvement right.

(2) They understand that one of the issues is to get past `“the giggle factor” associated with the subject'.

(3) The organisation, sociology, and ethics of the task is explicitly part of the agenda of study.

(4) They understand that we do not yet understand what the question is:
Then again, nobody is smart enough now to know what could come of the starship effort, Mr. Neyland pointed out. It would be naïve to think we even know the right questions to ask.

“If you had asked Einstein and Marconi in 1910 to define a worldwide communication system for the common man,” Mr. Neyland asked, “would he have come up with the iPhone?”

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