Sleepless nights for Psyche, the light against the animal world and the robot who thinks he is human

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

Slate report these remarks in a nice extract, human and didactic, of Portrait of a scientist as a young woman, the Memoirs of Lindy Elkins-Tanton, professor at Arizona State University and specialist in the formation of planets. This geologist assigned to the conquest of space simply explains to us what is the point of sending a robot to land, after more than three years of travel, on a pebble invisible from Earth. The asteroid Psyche would be entirely made of metal. It is a precious witness to the birth of our Solar System and the most easily observable sample of a metallic core similar to that which occupies the center of 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 now defunct twin towers of the World Trade Center, the two powerful light beams are quickly studded with mysterious black spots. They are birds, hundreds of birds, stopped short during their great autumn migration by the 44 bulbs with a power of 7,000 watts, which are exhausted 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 of Atlantic, provides many other examples of the ravages inflicted by the lights of human civilization on the animal world. Every year in the United States, six million birds crash into overly lit electricity pylons. At night, the baby turtles go to the massacre, confusing the glow of the roads under the lampposts with the light tint of the sea. However, it would take nothing to avoid this planetary scourge: light bulbs no longer fixed but flashing on the works of ‘art ; red street lights instead of white LEDs that attract animals…

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The Cougar Bridge

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

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Fired by Elon

SpaceX employees are tired of the antics of their boss, Elon Musk, on social networks, a source in their eyes of “entertainment and [d’] embarrass ». the New York Times recalls in this regard Musk’s rather nimble comments on Twitter after the accusations of sexual harassment made against him by a flight attendant, his political positions increasingly favorable to the pro-Trump camp, which prompted a letter from employees to management disseminated in the space operator’s internal mailbox. In response, SpaceX identified and fired the leaders of the sling. We listen with even more interest to Elon Musk’s vibrant calls for the defense of 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 take some rest, says the Washington Post. Lemoine, who works on the artificial intelligence program LaMDA, specializing in the reproduction of human language, is convinced that this chatbot, this “conversational assistant” supposed to answer questions from the public, has reached a level such that it is gifted with reason, that he has a conscience and an intelligence comparable to those of his human interlocutors. LaMDA, of course, discusses with him the famous “three laws of robotics” enacted by the writer Isaac Asimov, confides the emotions, the compassion he feels in the face of the injustice experienced by Fantine, Cosette’s mother, in Wretched and admits that his worst existential fear would be to turn it off, thus broaching the idea of ​​death.

The management of Google, she minimizes the prowess of the robot and alleges that the engineer is abused by the masses of data that LaMDA dumps during his conversations. His “culture” would therefore not be equivalent 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 LaMDA and contacted a member of Congress to complain about Google’s ethical shortcomings in its work on artificial intelligence.

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