Space-based automated manufacturing -- open source, acceleration, but ai at IDSC2008?

Space-based automated manufacturing -- open source, acceleration, but ai at IDSC2008?
From: Bryan Bishop <>

To: Eric Hedman <>,,, "Keith Henson" <>, Kevin Myrick <>, Paul Fernhout <>, Amara Angelica <>, James Clement <>, Tony Smith <>

Date: Today 11:09:41 pm

I found you through the programming page at ISDC2008:

And I found ISDC2008 through Amara D. Angelica, she's at:

Kurzweil, as you likely know, has written extensively on the singularity
from a somewhat capitalist perspective like in The Singularity is Near,
an awesome compilation of what I strongly suspect was most of the
information on the internet at the time (2005) on the subject, plus his
own contributions etc. Though it avoided an important development in
technology -- the internet itself and the open source movements that
have been going strong for many decades now, thanks to visionaries like
Richard Stallman, ESR, Linus, Neo, and so on.

This gets rather long and drawn-out, so I'll try to keep my own
commentary short. Just (super)gluing some pieces together.

Real quick: the singularity.
"The technological singularity is a hypothesised point in the future
variously characterized by the technological creation of self-improving
intelligence, unprecedentedly rapid technological progress, or some
combination of the two." [ignore the intelligence point [for now]]
* Moore's law; exponential growth of replicators; that sort of thing.
And :-) the proliferation of the 200+ exabytes of data on the web.
((*How* are we ever going to USE this?))

For a glimpse at what open source provides us with: And more concisely:

 "Debian is known for strict adherence to the Unix and free software
philosophies. Debian is also known for its abundance of options — the
current release includes over twenty-six thousand software packages for
eleven computer architectures. These architectures range from the
Intel/AMD 32-bit/64-bit architectures commonly found in personal
computers to the ARM architecture commonly found in embedded systems
and the IBM eServer zSeries mainframes. Throughout Debian's lifetime,
other distributions have taken it as a basis to develop their own,
including: Ubuntu, MEPIS, Dreamlinux, Damn Small Linux, Xandros,
Knoppix, Linspire, sidux, Kanotix, and LinEx among others. A
university's study concluded that Debian's 283 million source code
lines would cost 10 billion USA Dollars to develop by proprietary

"Ubuntu's popularity has climbed steadily since its 2004 release. It has
been the most viewed Linux distribution on in 2005,[4]
2006,[5] In an August 2007 survey of 38,500 visitors on, Ubuntu was the most popular distribution with 30.3
percent of respondents using it.[7] Third party sites have arisen to
provide Ubuntu packages outside of the Ubuntu organization. Ubuntu was
awarded the Reader Award for best Linux distribution at the 2005
LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in London.[107] It has been favorably
reviewed in online and print publications.[108][109][110] Ubuntu won
InfoWorld's 2007 Bossie Award for Best Open Source Client OS.[111] Mark
Shuttleworth indicates that there were at least 8 million Ubuntu users
at the end of 2006.[112] The large user-base has resulted in a large
stable of non-Canonical websites. These include general help sites like
Easy Ubuntu Linux,[113] dedicated weblogs (Ubuntu Gazette),[114] and
niche sites within the Ubuntu Linux niche itself (Ubuntu Women).[115]
The year 2007 saw the online publication of the first magazine
dedicated to Ubuntu, Full Circle.[116]"

What's interesting is that this is *exactly* what 'mining the cognitive
surplus' is all about; it was recently all across the news:
"Clay Shirky has been giving talks on his book Here Comes Everybody —
his "masterpiece," per Cory Doctorow — and BoingBoing picks up one of
them, from the Web 2.0 conference. Shirky has come up with a
quantification of the attention that TV has been absorbing for more
than half a century. Shirky defines as a unit of attention "the
Wikipedia": 100 million person-hours of thought. As a society we have
been burning 2,000 Wikipedias per year watching mostly sitcoms. We're
stopping now. Here's a video of another information-dense Shirky talk,
this one at Harvard."

So if just a fraction of the cognitive surplus has produced debian, and
the 26,000 software packages that are entirely free for anyone to
download with a few simple keystrokes (apt-get install xyz), and that
it's produced a value of $10 billion USD, maybe the ideals of
scarcity-centric, money-oriented societies aren't going to be holding
up to what ai and accelerating change, to those post-scarcity
singularities. Just an interesting thought, which I'll get back to in a

But first: Accelerating Future.

Which recently made G4TV on cable television :-)
which means about ~125,000 viewers (of 60 million). Sounds like a good
fraction of the cognitive surplus to me.

So what makes debian so successful? Turns out it was the social
aggregation of the software infrastructure. To me, it's an awesome
internet infrastructure project, supporting millions of users and most
of the major servers on the planet:

"What are the issues? Why is it so important to go "distributed"?

Debian is the largest independent of the longest-running of the Free
Software Distributions in existence. There are over 1000 maintainers;
nearly 20,000 packages. There are over 40 "Primary" Mirrors, and
something like one hundred secondary mirrors (listed here - I'm stunned
and shocked at the numbers!). 14 architectures are supported - 13 Linux
ports and one GNU/Hurd port but only for i386 (aww bless iiit). A
complete copy of the mirrors and their architectures, including source
code, is over 160 gigabytes.

At the last major upgrade of Debian/Stable, all the routers at the major
International fibreoptic backbone sites across the world redlined for a

To say that Debian is "big" is an understatement of the first order.

Many mirror sites simply cannot cope with the requirements. Statistics
on the Debian UK Mirror for July 2004 to June 2005 show 1.4 Terabytes
of data served. As you can see from the list of mirror sites, many of
the Secondary Mirrors and even a couple of the Primary ones have
dropped certain architectures. - perhaps the most important of all the Debian
sites - is definitely overloaded and undermirrored.

This isn't all: there are mailing lists (the statistics show almost
30,000 people on each of the announce and security lists, alone), and
IRC channels - and both of those are over-spammed. The load on the
mailing list server is so high that an idea (discussed informally at
Debconf7 and outlined here later in this article, for completeness) to
create an opt-in spam/voting system for people to "vet" postings and
comments, was met with genuine concern and trepidation by the mailing
list's maintainers.

It's incredible that Debian Distribution and Development hasn't fallen
into a big steaming heap of broken pieces, with administrators, users
and ISPs all screaming at each other and wanting to scratch each
others' eyes out on the mailing lists and IRC channels, only to find
that those aren't there either.

So it's basically coming through loud and clear: "server-based"
infrastructure is simply not scalable, and the situation is only going
to get worse as time progresses. That leaves "distributed
architecture" - aka peer-to-peer architecture - as the viable

This is in comparison to Wikipedia, a 'knowledge repository' if we are
to maintain the comparison; Wikipedia was the work of really only a
team of 10 managing the servers. And it's now one of the most visited
sites on the planet with over 2 million articles in the English
language alone:
"A wiki is a collection of web pages designed to enable anyone who
accesses it to contribute or modify content, using a simplified markup
language[1][2]. Wikis are often used to create collaborative websites
and to power community websites. For example, the collaborative
encyclopedia Wikipedia is one of the best known wikis.[2] Wikis are
used in businesses to provide affordable and effective intranets and
for Knowledge Management. Ward Cunningham, developer of the first wiki
software, WikiWikiWeb, originally described it as "the simplest online
database that could possibly work"."

"Wikipedia (pronunciation ) is a free,[4] multilingual, open content
encyclopedia project operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation.
Its name is a blend of the words wiki (a technology for creating
collaborative websites) and encyclopedia. Launched in 2001 by Jimmy
Wales and Larry Sanger,[5] it is the largest, fastest-growing and most
popular general reference work currently available on the Internet."

Investigating it a little further:
"The Wikimedia Foundation's stated goal is to develop and maintain open
content, wiki-based projects and to provide the full contents of those
projects to the public free of charge."

As part of maintenance:
"The Revision Control System (RCS) is a software implementation of
revision control that automates the storing, retrieval, logging,
identification, and merging of revisions."

All wikis tend to have this. You can see it on Wikipedia too, under the
heading of 'history'. In fact, it's one of the foundations of the open
source movement -- you can see RCS used everywhere from linux to
documentation projects (nonsoftware stuffs).

For the record, I am a big fan of git. "Git is a distributed revision
control / software configuration management project created by Linus
Torvalds, initially for the Linux kernel development." Basically it's a
move away from server-based centralization, just as the debian
infrastructure revamp project (above) details.

Turns out these are all converging in more ways than one, and space
manufacturing happens to be a sort of central nucleus to it all:
OSCOMAK Semantic Community On Manufactured Artifacts and Know-how

"The thing wrong with the world
is that people don't have instructions."
                      -- Tadodaho Chief Leon Shenandoah

"OSCOMAK supports playful learning communities of individuals and groups
chaordically building free and open source knowledge, tools, and
simulations which lay the groundwork for humanity's sustainable
development on Spaceship Earth and eventual joyful, compassionate, and
diverse expansion into space (including Mars, the Moon, the Asteroids,
or elsewhere in the Universe).

The OSCOMAK project will foster a community in which many interested
individuals will contribute to the creation of a distributed global
repository of manufacturing knowledge about past, present and future
processes, materials, and products. OSCOMAK stands for "OSCOMAK
Semantic Community On Manufactured Artifacts and Know-how".

The OSCOMAK project is supporting the OpenVirgle Project for Space
Habitats via Semantic MediaWiki pages starting here.

The project's short-term benefits will include:
technology education,
historical education,
sustainable technology development,
public science literacy, and
knowledge democratization.

The project's ultimate long-term goal will be to generate a repository
of knowledge that will support the design and creation of space
habitats. Three forces -- individual creativity, social collaboration,
and technological tools -- will join to create a synergistic effort
stronger than any of these forces could produce alone."

So what's this about OpenVirgle? What's Virgle anyway? It was mentioned
in the news last month for good reason -- it's Google's Mars
colonization project. Google bypassed the Mars Society, L5, NSS, NASA,
everybody, representing a little bit of daredevilness in them --
especially after their recent squirmish with the FCC auction for the
wireless spectrum:

"For thousands of years,

the human race has spread out across the Earth, scaling mountains and
plying the oceans, planting crops and building highways, raising
skyscrapers and atmospheric CO2 levels, and observing, with tremendous
and unflagging enthusiasm, the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and
multiply across our world's every last nook, cranny and subdivision.

An invitation.

Earth has issues, and it's time humanity got started on a Plan B. So,
starting in 2014, Virgin founder Richard Branson and Google co-founders
Larry Page and Sergey Brin will be leading hundreds of users on one of
the grandest adventures in human history: Project Virgle, the first
permanent human colony on Mars.

The question is, do you want to join us?

Ever yearned to journey to the stars? You can learn how to become a
Virgle Pioneer, test your Pioneering potential, or join the Mission
Control community that will help develop the 100 Year Plan we've
outlined here."

Digging a little deeper, OpenVirgle is under the hood.
 "What started as an April Fool joke by Google for 2008 called Project
Virgle is now a real and genuine effort by an increasing number of
people to create ideas and ways in which humankind can live sustainably
in space using free and open source technology. This project is a place
for all space enthusiasts to cooperate on simulations of space
settlements. Rather than argue whether L5 or Mars or the asteroids or
the Moon or the rings of Saturn should be humankind's first space
settlement, we could be asking what is common between those efforts so
that that groundwork can be shared."

Re: open source tech, where's OpenNASA when we need it most?

So, where is this all heading? That semantic web stuff sounded
important. Wasn't there something about a semantic ai, the grounding
problem, was it? Yep, turns out it's still here.
"The Semantic Web is an evolving extension of the World Wide Web in which
the semantics of information and services on the web is defined, making
it possible for the web to understand and satisfy the requests of
people and machines to use the web content."

Sounds like ai. Sounds like the grounding problem: how, exactly, do you
get this to cybernetically work out? The feedback loop, the circuit,
how can we make all of this semantic data *do* something, like OSCOMAK?

That's where I come in. Turns out the grounding problem is much more
prominent than the ai researchers are looking at -- it's rampant,
almost like a part of the (nebulous topic of) the human condition. I
like the way Neil formulated the problem:

"From this combination of passion and inventiveness I began to get a
sense that what these students are really doing is reinventing
literacy. Literacy in the modern sense emerged in the Renaissance as
mastery of the liberal arts. This is liberal in the sense of
liberation, not politically liberal. The trivium and the quadrivium
represented the available means of expression. Since then we've boiled
that down to just reading and writing, but the means have changed quite
a bit since the Renaissance. In a very real sense post-digital literacy
now includes 3D machining and microcontroller programming. I've even
been taking my twins, now 6, in to use MIT's workshops; they talk about
going to MIT to make things they think of rather than going to a toy
store to buy what someone else has designed. The World Bank is trying
to close the digital divide by bringing IT to the masses. The message
coming back for the fab labs is that rather than IT for the masses the
real story is IT development for the masses. Rather than the digital
divide, the real story is that there's a fabrication and an
instrumentation divide. Computing for the rest of the world only
secondarily means browsing the Web; it demands rich means of input and
output to interface computing to their worlds. There was an amazing
moment as I was talking to these Army generals about how the most
profound implication of emerging technology for them might not lie in
designing a better weapon to win a war, but rather in giving more
people something else to do. So we're now at a cusp where personal
fabrication is poised to reinvent literacy in the developed world, and
to engage the intellectual capacity of the rest of the world."
-- Neil Gershenfeld, homepage:

Re: instrumentation divide? Grounding the semantic web. Automation.
Re: giving them something else to do? Cognitive surplus.

So where are we heading? Space. And we're going to bootstrap the
singularity at the same time, all of these problems are convergent.
Again, for a glimpse of the issues, I do have a page to suggest -- but
this one isn't the most polished :-) and for that I apologize up front:

Especially the manufacturing ecology email at the bottom -- it turns out
some of this is naturally evolving without our direct intentionality.
Weird. Hm. Let's take advantage of it.

It's a project repository, an aggregation layer on top of the web, kind
of like debian, though not just for software -- for manufacturing
automation, and perhaps for the eventual (bruteforce) design of a
self-replicating machine. Maybe a von Neumann probe? "The basic idea of a von Neumann
probe is to have a space-probe that is able to navigate the galaxy and
use self-replication (see RepRap and bio). The probe would contain
hundreds of thousands of digital genomes (sequenced DNA), DNA
synthesizers and sequencers, bacteria, embryos, stem cells, copies of
the Internet Archive and a significant portion of the WWW in general,
plus the immediate means and tools to copy all of the information and
create a material embodiment, kind of like running an unzip utility on
top of the thousands of exabytes predicted to be in existence today.
This would probably include many people, societies, even entire
civilizations if we can collect enough data and begin to 'debug'
civilization. The system might end up using an ion drive and a hydrogen
collector, with on-board nucleosynthesis to create the biomolecules
necessary for life, plus ways to attach to asteroids and begin
replicating and copying the data and biomaterials."

Somebody get Kevin Kelly - he might have just had a heart attack ;-) or
David Gingery, if he was still with us. He bootstrapped the industrial
revolution in sand in his backyard. Metal, steel, iron, tools to get it
all working. So we know it's possible. Just have to hop to it.

All of the puzzle pieces are already out there. What's left is putting
them together and showing others the vision. We *know* self-replication
is possible, and that it can bring about the ai you mention, and it is
intricately linked with 'grounding' and thus manufacturing processes.

We know self-replication works because we're living proof.

Well, OK. Some of us don't seem to be living :-) much.

And some of us retreat into (entertaining, but ultimately) fictional :-(
worlds: and the more popular escape destination:
"World of Warcraft (commonly known as WoW) is a massively multiplayer
online role-playing game (MMORPG). It is Blizzard Entertainment's
fourth game set in the fantasy Warcraft universe, which was first
introduced by Warcraft: Orcs & Humans in 1994.[3] World of Warcraft
takes place within the world of Azeroth, four years after the events at
the conclusion of Blizzard's previous release, Warcraft III: The Frozen
Throne. Blizzard Entertainment announced World of Warcraft on September
2, 2001.[4] The game was released on November 23, 2004, celebrating the
10th anniversary of the Warcraft franchise. It is currently the world's
largest MMORPG in terms of monthly subscribers.[5][6][7] World of
Warcraft currently holds 62% of the MMOG market at 10 million
subscribers. The current subscriber base for all MMOGs is 16 million."

Fiction can be healthy, to an extent. But I can't help but think that
maybe all of this is pointing away from the fiction and back to
reality, back to the ground. Ironic that you have to be grounded in
order to do all of these amazing things we envision (astrochickens,
anyone?). Space habitats. OpenVirgle. Self-replicating orbital ships.
Asteroid mining. Douglas Adams got it right the first time:

"There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies
in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. Pick a nice
day, [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy] suggests, and try it.

The first part is easy. All it requires is simply the ability to throw
yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind
that it's going to hurt.

That is, it's going to hurt if you fail to miss the ground. Most people
fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the
likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.

Clearly, it is the second part, the missing, which presents the

One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It's no
good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won't. You
have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when
you're halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling,
or about the ground, or about how much it's going to hurt if you fail
to miss it."

So that's where OSCOMAK's 'playfulness' comes in. And really that's what
all of these many tens of thousands of open source programmers are
doing. Just playing around, making stuff work. And the internet is an
enabler of this tech. And it's accelerating. Cool. Maybe I'll live to
see something happen in this area.

And maybe not -- so I'm doing as much as I can. By that I mean, well. "Join the fight against cancer, against all sorts
of disease! Or would you rather see some glowing bacterium, get your
own ecoli farm set up to amaze your friends? This open, free synthetic
biology kit contains all sorts of information from across the web on
how to do it: how to extract and amplify DNA, cloning techniques,
making DNA by what's known as oligonucleotides, and all sorts of other
tutorials and documents on techniques in genetic engineering, tissue
engineering, synbio (synthetic biology), stem cell research, SCNT,
evolutionary engineering, bioinformatics, etc. And since the project is
open, it's free for you to revise or share your experiences, or even
share your genes ((got anything cool?))."

And it's all over the wiki too:

And it's somewhat organized:

I'm wrapping up this email now, there's enough context, links and text
to sift through to keep lots of people occupied for weeks -- and many
years. I've been working with some of these groups to get everything
chugging along. Guess this explains why I was so excited to see:

""Integrated artificial intelligence into computer-aided design,
engineering and manufacturing""

on the schedule for IDSC2008. And others:

* "Expanding the Capacities and Extending the Foundations of the ISS
Partnership" (Peter Kokh)

* "Futurists and Space"  (Amara Angelica)

* "Automated Operations for Lunar Surface Systems"  (Mike Lowry)
Chief Scientist,
Reliable Software Engineering,
NASA Ames Research Center
^ sounds promising. :-)

* "Space Solar Power" (Joe Rauscher) -- better get Charles F. Radley
involved. Maybe Keith Henson too. I'll add them as recipients.

* "Space Settlement" (Anita Gale)
so OpenVirgle and Anita have a lot in common :-)

All of these look too appealing to pass up. It's a shame that I might
not be making it to the conference. Still making arrangements. It's my
understanding that we're seeing something interesting unfolding here,
and passing it up, by not encouraging these communities and technical
projects, might be missing the forest for the trees. :-(

OK. Signing off.

- Bryan

Some other channels that might be more appropriate than ISDC2008