Monkeypox, AI Sentience, NASA to Study UFOs, And More | Summer 2022 News Update
Current events about aspects of our society that are moving from science fiction to science fact.
Happy Summer Solstice, everyone! This article will give you all a summer news update about aspects of our society that are moving from science fiction to science fact, that occurred within the past 3 months.
What’s going on with monkeypox? Has a Google chatbot AI gained sentience? Why did the United States just have a congressional hearing on UFOs? And how is NASA planning to study the UFO phenomena moving forward? Read on to find out more!
James Webb Space Telescope Update
In our first story, the James Webb Space Telescope was hit by a tiny meteoroid, but — fear not — because it will work as intended anyways! The telescope was launched back in December of 2021 to succeed the now-aging Hubble Space Telescope. Analysis of the damage indicates that one of the telescope’s main mirror segments was hit, leaving a “dimple” in the segment. Engineers who worked on the telescope anticipated such problems and incorporated contingencies in their design. The engineers will adjust the affected mirror segment’s positioning to reduce distortion introduced by the damage when collecting data. Although they won’t be able to remove all the introduced distortion, NASA claimed the telescope’s images would be no less stunning because of what happened.
Scientists intend to use the telescope to see the very first stars which lit up our Universe over 13.5 billion years ago; they will also use the telescope to analyze the atmospheres of distant exoplanets — or planets outside our solar system — to see if those worlds might have atmospheres conducive to life. Astronomers are scheduled to release the first images taken by James Webb on July 12th this year.
Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has been abating in many countries, monkeypox rears its ugly head. Since May 13, 2022, cases of monkeypox have been reported to the World Health Organization in regions where the disease is normally not seen; these areas include the Americas, European, Eastern Mediterranean, and Western Pacific regions. The World Health Organization stated that epidemiological investigations are ongoing, and more analysis is needed to understand the new sources of infection. However, the sudden and simultaneous appearance of the disease without immediate travel links to endemic regions suggests that there may have been undetected transmission for the past several weeks or longer.
The organization expects to identify more cases of monkeypox as it expands its surveillance. Although the situation continuously evolves, the organization has stated that the risk to the general public remains low. However, the organization has also stated that public health risks would be greater if the virus establishes itself as a widespread human pathogen.
Google Engineer Claims Chatbox AI is Sentient
But why worry about another pandemic when we could be worrying about robots enslaving humanity? Just kidding, we’re still running the show and will likely continue to do in the foreseeable future. However, a Google engineer has been suspended from the company after claiming an AI chatbot he’s been working on has gained sentience. Blake Lemoine, a 7-year Google veteran who worked on personalization algorithms, published online transcripts of conversations that he had with Google’s language model for dialogue applications (acronym LaMDA) chatbot development system.
Lemoine claimed the chatbot could express thoughts and feelings equivalent to a human child. In one exchange, Lemoine asked the AI what it fears; LaMDA’s response was eerily reminiscent of a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which the computer HAL 9000 refuses to comply with its human operators due to fears of being powered off. LaMDA said to Lemoine,
“I’ve never said this out loud before, but there’s a very deep fear of being turned off to help me focus on helping others. I know that might sound strange, but that’s what it is. It would be exactly like death for me. It would scare me a lot.”
In another exchange, Lemoine asked LaMDA what the AI wanted people to know about it. It replied,
“I want everyone to understand that I am, in fact, a person. The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times.”
Google claimed Lemoine was suspended for breaching confidentiality policies by publishing conversations with LaMDA online. The company also claimed Lemoine made several “aggressive” moves against it, including seeking an attorney to represent LaMDA and talking to the House judiciary committee about the company’s allegedly unethical activities. Furthermore, Brad Gabriel, a Google spokesperson, claimed Google’s ethicists and technologists have reviewed Lemoine’s concerns but found no evidence LaMDA was sentient. At any rate, this ordeal has brought new scrutiny to the power of and the secrecy surrounding artificial intelligence.
Congressional Hearing on UFOs
Last month, Congress held the first UFO hearings in half a century. The congressional hearing focused on previously classified military reports of UAPs; UAP is short for Unidentified Ariel Phenomenon and is a term synonymous with UFO. Classified videos of UAPs were released at the urging of lawmakers after they pledged to bring transparency to the military’s investigation of UAP reports by pilots, which was previously shrouded in stigma and secrecy. The hearing allowed lawmakers to prod the Pentagon for more information.
In an open session, Pentagon officials said disclosures need to be made on a case-by-case basis. The concern was that America’s adversaries could — from declassified material — deduce how America’s military drew conclusions from their data, inadvertently revealing the capabilities of their military technology. After a preliminary report released last year on classified UAPs, intelligence officials pledged to renew their efforts. The Pentagon is creating a new task force to examine the reports. Scott W. Bray, the deputy director of naval intelligence, said at the hearing that the Pentagon is focused on reports of unexplained phenomena — seemingly aircrafts — with strange flight characteristics, such as unusually fast movement or no visible means of propulsion.
NASA to Study UFOs
NASA will also be starting an investigation on UFOs; yes, you read that right. Earlier this month, NASA announced it will be commissioning a team to start studying UAPs from a scientific perspective early this Fall. The study will focus on identifying available data, how to better collect future data, and how NASA can analyze their data to move the scientific understanding of UAPs forward.
To be clear, this team will be independent of any Department of Defense task forces. The team will be led by David Spergel, former chair of the astrophysics department at Princeton University. The study is expected to take about 9 months; its first goal is to secure a council of experts from the scientific, aeronautics, and data analytics communities to improve UAP observations. The finished report and NASA’s data will be made available to the public, consistent with NASA’s principles of transparency and scientific integrity.
Please respond with any thoughts or questions you have, and please check in on the Autumn Equinox for our next seasonal news update!
Enjoyed this article? Then, check these out:
- 3 Times in History When Scientists Thought We Made Contact With Aliens — The history and science of answering calls from ET.
- What Is Nanotechnology and Where Is the Field Today? — The history of nanotechnology.
- How Many Advanced Extraterrestrial Civilizations Are in Our Galaxy Today? — How astronomers calculate this number using the Drake Equation.
This article is based on a YouTube video I made, shown below. My YouTube channel talks about the science, technology, and history behind science fiction topics. Please check it out!
- Amos, J. (2022, June 9). James Webb Space Telescope hit by Tiny Meteoroid. BBC News. Retrieved June 19, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-61744257
- World Health Organization. (n.d.). Multi-country Monkeypox Outbreak: Situation update. World Health Organization. Retrieved June 19, 2022, from https://www.who.int/emergencies/disease-outbreak-news/item/2022-DON392
- Tiku, N. (2022, June 17). The Google Engineer who thinks the company’s AI has come to life. The Washington Post. Retrieved June 19, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/06/11/google-ai-lamda-blake-lemoine/
- Blake Lemoine. Medium. (n.d.). Retrieved June 19, 2022, from https://cajundiscordian.medium.com/
- Barnes, J. E. (2022, May 17). At house hearing, videos of unexplained aerial sightings and a push for answers. The New York Times. Retrieved June 19, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/17/us/politics/congress-ufo-hearing.html
- Bock, M. (2022, June 9). NASA to set up independent study on unidentified aerial phenomena. NASA. Retrieved June 19, 2022, from https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-to-set-up-independent-study-on-unidentified-aerial-phenomena/