Scanning Retrospective, No. 22

Foresight Snippets – No. 22

[Originally published in] prospect no.7, March 2002

  • Warp Drive? Make It So! (Maybe)
  • A(nother) Force of Nature?
  • Risk-Free Babies?

Warp Drive? Make It So! (Maybe)

In seminars I sometimes speak about the image of the future shown in the Star Trek TV and movie series as an example of a possible future for which we do not yet possess the knowledge to bring about as a reality — in particular, there is no warp drive yet. I occasionally also mention, however, that a ‘warp drive solution’ does exist for the field equations of General Relativity which indicate that such knowledge is, at least in principle, conceivable, so we might yet get there. I dug out my old (1994) copy of the original warp drive paper, and went looking for an online reference for it, in case readers of the Snippets wanted to chase it up and have a look! It has only recently been made available online, so here is the link. Alternatively, do a web search on ‘Alcubierre warp drive’ and see what shows up! Have fun!

Sources: Miguel Alcubierre’s journal paper on the warp drive solution
Ongoing debate regarding the warp drive solution

A(nother) Force of Nature?

There are always surprises when it comes to cosmology! A paper about to be published in The Physical Review details an anomalous effect of unknown origin affecting the two Pioneer space probes launched nearly 30 years ago which suggests that a previously-unknown long-range force may be affecting their trajectories. All of the known effects have been eliminated as possible causes, leaving a question hanging over whether physicists will need to invoke the existence of a ‘fifth’ force of nature to explain it. Such ‘extra-force’ type theories have been discussed in theoretical journals for some decades. This is an instance of there possibly being some real-world data to back up such speculations…

Source: The Telegraph — March 6, 2002.

Risk-Free Babies?

Earlier issues of the Snippets have mentioned near-future possibilities involving genetic technology, and have also mentioned how popular culture sometimes provides images of potential futures, mostly through film. One recent film, Gattaca, deals with the idea that a child’s whole future social role from birth could be mapped out and determined by their genetic profile (the film’s name comes from the letters for the genetic code: G T C A). Some of the technological capabilities depicted in the film — in particular, detecting increased risks to certain diseases in later life — are now becoming available, indicating that we might be moving toward elements of a quasi-Gattaca future. Many experts are understandably nervous about this new development. How we cope, as a species, with the moral and ethical implications of this new capability, will have ramifications for how we evolve as a species; and will likely yield many difficult questions around what it actually means to be human.

Source: University of Cambridge, Public Health Genetics Unit newsletter, March 2002.

prospect is a quarterly publication of Foresight, Planning & Review, Swinburne University of Technology.

Futura tenaciter in prospectu tenemus

This publication is intended to serve the broader Swinburne community, by highlighting areas of interest and concern to Swinburne stakeholders, by helping us take a long-term foresight view, and to expand our perceptions of our strategic options as we move forward together into our common future.

This collection is © 2002 FPR and Swinburne University of Technology. Copyright for the individual articles resides with the original authors and/or the original sources as listed. All articles have been used either with express permission or, where express permission is not required, following stipulated re-use guidelines.

NOTE: In all the posts in this series, the original source URLs are left exactly as they were when published 20-odd years ago. This means they will almost certainly be dead links (or good ol’ 404 errors). I do not have the patience or inclination to follow-up or find any archived or re-located versions of those web pages (because, well, life is too short). But, if it really bugs you, I invite you to see if you can find archived or relocated versions of those dead-link pages. And if you do, let me know, and I’ll update these posts with due credit to your detective work.

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