We have the Technology


1. Space Travel

a. Definitions

1. Hyperspace, Warp Speed, FTL

2. Stable Wormholes

3. Black Holes

a. What is a Black Hole?

b. Historical Overview

c. Scientific Overview

d. Mathematical Overview

e. Can they be discovered?

f. So where are they?

b. Means and methods of space travel

Hyper Space



Generations Ship

Solar Sails

Space Elevator

2. Computers, Networks and AI; the "Brain in a Jar"

1. So what are we really afraid of?

2. Man Vs. Machine or Man and Machine?

3. VR Science or Science Fiction?

3. Robotics and Cybernetics

1. Common Terminology

2. Man-Machine Interface

3. On Robots, Cyborgs and Androids

4. Genetics and Genetic Manipulation or the Mad Scientist


The Scenarios

1. Cloning and Cross-Breeding Scenarios

a. Human to Hunan

b. Human to non-Human

2. Homo Gestalt Scenarios

3. Human and Super Human: Genetically Engineered Soldiers Scenarios

4. From the Golem to Frankenstein: Mad Scientist Scenarios

a. The Rude Awakening

b. The Savior of Humanity

c. The Creator Against the Creature

d. The Island of Dr. Moreau

e. The Jurassic Park Scenario

5. (Not) Identical Twins: Twins Scenarios

a. Good Twin-Bad Twin

b. Inseparable Twins

c. Lost Twin

6. The fine line between Mad and Genius: Dr. Mabuse



We have the Technology



The quote in this chapter's title is taken from the legendary TV show "the Six Million Dollar Man". In the show, the scientists who turned Steve Austin into a bionic man did so because they had the technology, in total disregard of his wishes. The result - he tried to commit suicide.

Science Fiction literature has dealt from the very beginning with technology, technological development and their effects on humanity. It is seemingly the most natural environment for any aspiring Science Fiction writer, especially if he also has some scientific education. This involved a wide variety of topics, from the biggest (Intergalactic FTL space travel) to the smallest (miniaturization and genetics at the molecular level). The principle is usually simple you take a technological concept that might already exist in theory, and develop it to its limits. As I have said again and again, the time required for new technology to move from theory phase to the application phase is becoming exponentially shorter and shorter, so that the line between science and science fiction becomes increasingly blurred. To name but a few, the following are prominent examples of technological processes the end of which is yet to be determined:

Increasing the speed of travel;

Using personal and mass communication devices (in direct proportion to their miniaturization);

Switching to disposable products (much to the dismay of the environmentalists);

Life extension (people today already have children as "spare parts" for their older siblings suffering from incurable genetic diseases, a highly controversial practice) and stem cell research which made its way back to the ​​headlines only recently;

Food production for the ever-growing population;

In all these areas, the only constraints before a breakthrough are ethical and political, not scientific and not even financial, but that will not deter scientists from pursuing their research, since both ethics and politics lag far behind the science.

1. Space Travel

In his novel "From the Earth to the Moon", published in 1865, Jules Verne (1905-1828) calculated almost exactly the trajectory of a projectile on the way to the Moon, the escape velocity from Earth, the speed of the projectile, and he even selected the launch site. Verne's scientists deliberated between Texas aFlorida, and choose Tampa, Florida, not far from the current launch site. The novel is still an integral part of NASAs space studies program of, and in NASA's official website you can find a full translation into English, and comparative analysis of Verne's vision in comparison with its applications in the early stages of the space program. Not many novels were accorded such an honor.

H. G. Wells (1946-1866) also described a journey to the moon in his novel "First Men on the Moon", released in 1901. Verne, a realist and a stickler to details, was not pleased, and this is what he had said to Wells:

"I sent my characters to the moon with gunpowder, a thing one may see every day. Where does M. Wells find his cavourite? Let him show it to me!"

Mr. Wells was unavailable for comment, but Arthur C. Clarke definitely had something to say in his book Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds, published in1999:

"It is difficult to say how seriously Verne took the idea of this mammoth cannon, because so much of the story is facetiously written... Probably he believed that if such a gun could be built, it might be capable of sending a projectile to the Moon, but it seems unlikely that he seriously imagined that any of the occupants would have survived the shock of takeoff."

Incidentally, in his later novels, written at the end of the 19th century, Verne also began to express concerns about the abuse of technology and its falling into the wrong hands (see "Robur the Conqueror" etc').

The first Movie to portray a trip to the moon and a landing on its surface was Georges Melies's "a Journey to the Moon", made in 1902, amazing viewers wherever it was shown. The Movie was based on the two above-mentioned novels. This may be the first Sci Fi Movie ever made, and undoubtedly Melies's best Movie. But Melies's goal was to show off of his new toy, the camera, and not necessarily to make a Movie about a trip to the moon (or any Movie, for that matter), and therefore he couldn't repeat his success. By the way, he was compelled to assemble the camera used to make the Movie with his own hands, since the Lumiere Brothers, who made in1895 another amazing movie, "Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat", wouldn't sell him their system.

Over a century later came President Kennedy's dramatic statement, which started the race to the moon and forever removed flying to the moon, landing on its surface and returning safely, from the realm of Science Fiction. The appeal of the moon has faded, and the Challenger and Columbia disasters resulted in the suspension of the planes to resume manned space flights (except for old timer Neal Armstrong, but he never made it to the moon, so that does not count). Meanwhile rumors are circulating about a much grander plan a manned flight to Mars. Stay tuned for further developments.

At the same time, a conspiracy theory developed claiming that the whole point of the lunar landing was nothing but an elaborate hoax by the government, and all the photographs of the flights and the landings were faked. Even the illustrious James Bond, back in 1971, happened to come across a group of scientists who tried to fake a lunar lading (yes, in Diamonds are Forever, and if you remember, in Moonraker, he actually flew into space).

For more about this, and conspiracy theories in general, click here.

So what else is there? Wait for the next flight to Mars? And why not to Venus? Build a spaceship with FTL flight capability to allow man to breach the boundaries of the solar system? All of that remains in the realm of science fiction, at least for the time being.

As it turns out, there are several ways to travel in outer space (preferably, but not just, in FTL speed). The following are some overlapping terms used in this context:


a. Definitions

Those terms are in very common in Sci Fi literature:

warp drive

jump drive


1. Hyperspace, Warp Speed, FTL

The Alcubierre drive, also known as the Alcubierre metric, is a general term describing a speculative mathematical model of a spacetime allowing for FTL travel without violating the laws of physics, while exhibiting features reminiscent of the fictional "warp drive" from Star Trek.

A method of stretching space in a wave which would in theory cause the fabric of space ahead of a spacecraft to contract and the space behind it to expand. The ship would ride this wave inside a region known as a warp bubble of flat space. Since the ship is not moving within this bubble, but carried along as the region itself moves, conventional relativistic effects such as time dilation do not apply in the way they would in the case of a ship moving at high velocity through flat spacetime relative to other objects


2. Stable Wormholes

There are two kinds of wormholes, Euclidean and Lorentzian.



Lorentzian traversable wormholes would allow travel from one part of the universe to another part of that same universe very quickly or would allow travel from one universe to another.

The possibility of traversable wormholes in general relativity was first demonstrated by Kip Thorne and his graduate student Mike Morris in a 1988 paper; for this reason, the type of traversable wormhole they proposed, held open by a spherical shell of exotic matter, is referred to as a Morris-Thorne wormhole. Later, other types of traversable wormholes were discovered as allowable solutions to the equations of general relativity, including a variety analyzed in a 1989 paper by Matt Visser, in which a path through the wormhole can be made in which the traversing path does not pass through a region of exotic matter. However in the pure Gauss-Bonnet theory (a modification to general relativity involving extra spatial dimensions which is sometimes studied in the context of Brane cosmology) exotic matter is not needed in order for wormholes to exist- they can exist even with no matter. A type held open by negative mass cosmic strings was put forth by Visser in collaboration with Cramer et al., in which it was proposed that such wormholes could have been naturally created in the early universe.


3. Black Holes


a. What is a Black Hole?

Black holes are strange creatures by all accounts. To this day, there is no consensus about their nature and qualities. Suffice it to say that they probably did not "holes", or "black".

A black hole is a region of space from which nothing, not even light, can escape. It is the result of the deformation of spacetime caused by a very compact mass. Around a black hole there is an undetectable surface which marks the point of no return. This surface is called an event horizon. It is called "black" because it absorbs all the light that hits it, reflecting nothing, just like a perfect black body in thermodynamic. Quantum mechanics predicts that black holes also emit radiation like a black body with a finite temperature. This temperature decreases with the mass of the black hole, making it difficult to observe this radiation for black holes of stellar mass.

According to the theory, the event horizon of a rotating black hole is not round, and it has a point singularity. If the black hole has an angular momentum (the effect of the original star from which the black hole was created), it begins to "drag" along the time-space around the event horizon. The rotating area around the event horizon is called "Ergosphere" and has an oval shape. Since the Ergosphere is outside the event horizon, objects can survive there without falling into the abyss. However, because time-space itself moves through the Ergosphere, it is possible for objects to stay stationary. Objects near the Ergosphere might, in some cases, get thrown away at a very high speed, while emitting energy and angular momentum from the hole.

The theory of general relativity does not only state that black holes can exist, but also predicts their formation in nature when a sufficient amount of mass is compacted into a small enough space, a process called gravitational collapse. The larger the mass in the region, the stronger gravity - or, in the terminology of the theory of relativity, time-space in the surrounding area becomes more and more warped. When the escape velocity at a certain distance from the center exceeds the speed of light, an event horizon is created, from which all matter has to converge into one point, creating a singularity.

A quantum analysis of this idea led to the conclusion that a star with a mass of three Suns will have to reach this stage at some point in its life. When the star's nuclear fuel runs out, it will shrink to the size required for a gravitational collapse. Once the collapse begins, no physical force can stop it

It follows also that black holes with a mass of less than 3 Suns can be created only if their matter is compressed by a force other than its own gravity. The huge pressure required for this was available, apparently, in the early days of the universe.

Super massive black holes, with the mass of billions of suns, can also be created where a large number of stars is found in a relatively small area, by the fall of large amounts of matter into an existing small black hole, or by the reconvergence of several black holes. The necessary conditions for their creation exist in most galaxies, if not all, including our Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy.

Theoretical and astronomical observations have confirmed the existence of black holes, thought a small group of physicists is still opposed to the very idea.


b. Historical Overview

The idea of a body so massive that even light could not escape was first put forward by geologist John Michell in a letter written to Henry Cavendish in 1783 to the Royal Society. At the time, Newton's laws and the concept of escape velocity were well known. According to Michell's calculations, in a body with a radius 500 hundreds times longer than the Sun's and a density equal to the Sun's, the escape velocity on the surface will be equal to the speed of light, or in his own words,

"If the semi-diameter of a sphere of the same density as the Sun were to exceed that of the Sun in the proportion of 500 to 1, a body falling from an infinite height towards it would have acquired at its surface greater velocity than that of light, and consequently supposing light to be attracted by the same force in proportion to its vis inertiae (inertial mass), with other bodies, all light emitted from such a body would be made to return towards it by its own proper gravity."

The probability of that occurrence was not very high, but Michell did account for the possibility that many such objects exist in the Universe without our knowledge.

In 1796, mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace promoted the same idea in the first and second editions of his book Exposition du systeme du Monde (it was removed from later editions). Such "dark stars" were largely ignored in the nineteenth century, since it was not understood how a massless wave such as light could be influenced by gravity.

In 1915, Albert Einstein developed his theory of general relativity, having earlier shown that gravity does influence light's motion.

A few months later, Karl Schwarzschild gave the solution for the gravitational field of a point mass and a spherical mass. A few months after Schwarzschild, Johannes Droste, a student of Hendrik Lorentz, independently gave the same solution for the point mass and wrote more extensively about its properties. This solution had a peculiar behaviour at what is now called the Schwarzschild radius, where it became singular, meaning that some of the terms in the Einstein equations became infinite. The nature of this surface was not quite understood at the time. In 1924, Arthur Eddington showed that the singularity disappeared after a change of coordinates (see Eddington coordinates), although it took until 1933 for Georges Lemaitre to realize that this meant the singularity at the Schwarzschild radius was an unphysical coordinate singularity.

Working together with Nathan Rosen, Einstein discovered that his relativity equations actually represent the black hole as a bridge between two areas of time/space, known as the "Einstein-Rosen Bridge".

In 1931, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar calculated, using general relativity, that a non-rotating body of electron-degenerate matter above a certain limiting mass (now called the Chandrasekhar limit at 1.44 solar masses) must have an infinite density. In other words, the object must have a radius of zero.

His arguments were opposed by many of his contemporaries, such as Arthur Eddington and Lev Landau, who argued that some yet unknown mechanism would stop the collapse.

They were partly correct: a white dwarf slightly more massive than the Chandrasekhar limit will collapse into a neutron star, which is itself stable because of the Pauli exclusion principle. But in 1939, Robert Oppenheimer and others predicted that neutron stars above approximately three solar masses (the TolmanOppenheimerVolkoff limit) would collapse into black holes for the reasons presented by Chandrasekhar, and concluded that no law of physics was likely to intervene and stop at least some stars from collapsing to black holes.

Oppenheimer and his co-authors interpreted the singularity at the boundary of the Schwarzschild radius as indicating that this was the boundary of a bubble in which time stopped. This is a valid point of view for external observers, but not for infalling observers. Because of this property, the collapsed stars were called "frozen stars," because an outside observer would see the surface of the star frozen in time at the instant where its collapse takes it inside the Schwarzschild radius.

However, in the late sixties Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking used global techniques to prove those singularities are generic. In 1963, Roy Kerr found the exact solution for a rotating black hole.

Two years later Ezra T. Newman found the axisymmetric solution for a black hole, which is both rotating and electrically charged. Through the work of Werner Israel, Brandon Carter, and D. C. Robinson, the no-hair theorem emerged, stating that a stationary black hole solution is completely described by the three parameters of the KerrNewman metric; mass, angular momentum, and electric charge.

The No-hair theorem is a theorem in general relativity defining the attributes of a stable black hole that can be measured beyond its event horizon. These attributes, the mass, the angular momentum and the electric charge, define the black hole for any outside observer, and fully characterize it. An outside observer can not measure the local matter density in the different regions of the black hole or distinguish local fields. The name of the theorem, coined by John Wheeler, symbolizes the fact that the event horizon of a black hole is a surface devoid of information (except for the aforementioned three parameters), similar to a hairless head.

This is a collection of a number of theoretical results obtained in the late 1960ies and early 1970ies, which were formed into a complete proof in the work of Stephen Hawking and Werner Israel.

And to close the circle, the great physicist Hawking recently changed his theories about black holes, following new research showing a certain amount of light can still escape from a black hole. On July 21st 2004, he introduced a new argument, according to which black holes do releas information about things that get sucked into them. His new theory is that quantum fluctuations in the event horizon could allow information to escape from a black hole, and even affect the "Hawking radiation" Incidentally, this caused Hawking and Thorne to lose a 7-year bet with another theoretical physicist, John Preskill.


c. Scientific Overview

Event Horizon

The defining feature of a black hole is the appearance of an event horizon - a boundary in spacetime through which matter and light can only pass inward towards the mass of the black hole. Nothing, not even light, can escape from inside the event horizon. The event horizon is referred to as such because if an event occurs within the bound, information from that event cannot reach an outside observer, making it impossible to determine if such an event occurred, According to the General Relativity theory, though, black holes can be detected using three parameters: Mass, angular motion and electrical charge,

To a distant observer, clocks near a black hole appear to tick more slowly than those further away from the black hole. Due to this effect, known as gravitational time dilation, an object falling into a black hole appears to slow down as it approaches the event horizon, taking an infinite time to reach it. At the same time, all processes on this object slow down causing emitted light to appear redder and dimmer, an effect known as gravitational redshift. Eventually, at a point just before it reaches the event horizon, the falling object becomes so dim that it can no longer be seen.

For a non-rotating (static) black hole, the Schwarzschild radius delimits a spherical event horizon. The Schwarzschild radius of an object is proportional to the mass. Rotating black holes have distorted nonspherical event horizons. Since the event horizon is not a material surface but rather merely a mathematically defined demarcation boundary, nothing prevents matter or radiation from entering a black hole, only from exiting one. The description of black holes given by general relativity is known to be an approximation, and some scientists expect that quantum gravity effects will become significant near the vicinity of the event horizon. This would allow observations of matter near a black hole's event horizon to be used to indirectly study general relativity and proposed extensions to it.

In 1976, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory launched a rocket to an altitude of 10,000 km, in an experiment designed to examine the phenomenon of time dilation and measure it. The experiment successfully demonstrated a deviation of 0.01 percent between times in a free fall from an altitude of 10,000 km over two hours.


At the center of an event horizon lies a singularity. According to one theory, such a singularity is responsible for the Big Bang.

A singularity is a region where gravitation becomes infinite. Is the only possible future for time-space inside the event horizon, and all particles within the event horizon are drawn to it. Note that according to Mitchell's theory, the escape velocity equals the speed of light, but still theoretically it is still possible, for example, to pull a man out of a black hole using a rope. According to general relativity, this is impossible, since from the moment the object is inside a black hole, its time line includes a end point for itself, and no "world line" can cross the event horizon.

Most theorists interpret the mathematical singularity of relativity equations as proof that the current theory is not perfect, and other phenomena, still unknown and not understood, occur as one approaches the singularity.

How to get into a black hole and get away with it

Imagine an astronaut falling feet forward, at a high speed, to center of simple, non-rotating black hole. As he approaches the event horizon, the photons he sends take longer to leave the gravitational field. An onlooker will see the astronaut slow down as he approaches the event horizon, seemingly never reaching it.

On the other hand, an observer falling into a black hole does not notice any of these effects as he crosses the event horizon. According to his own clock, he crosses the event horizon after a finite time, although he is unable to determine exactly when he crosses it, as it is impossible to determine the location of the event horizon from local observations.

An observer falling into a Schwarzschild black hole (i.e. non-rotating and no charges) cannot avoid the singularity. Any attempt to do so will only shorten the time taken to get there. When they reach the singularity, they are crushed to infinite density and their mass is added to the total of the black hole. Before that happens, they will have been torn apart by the growing tidal forces in a process sometimes referred to as spaghettification or the noodle effect.

In the case of a charged (ReissnerNordstrom) or rotating (Kerr) black hole it is possible to avoid the singularity. Extending these solutions as far as possible reveals the hypothetical possibility of exiting the black hole into a different spacetime with the black hole acting as a wormhole. The possibility of traveling to another universe is however only theoretical, since any perturbation will destroy this possibility. It also appears to be possible to follow closed timelike curves (going back to one's own past) around the Kerr singularity, which lead to problems with causality like the grandfather paradox. It is expected that none of these peculiar effects would survive in a proper quantum mechanical treatment of rotating and charged black holes.

The appearance of singularities in general relativity is commonly perceived as signaling the breakdown of the theory. This breakdown, however, is expected; it occurs in a situation where quantum mechanical effects should describe these actions due to the extremely high density and therefore particle interactions. To date it has not been possible to combine quantum and gravitational effects into a single theory. It is generally expected that a theory of quantum gravity will feature black holes without singularities.

But from his personal perspective, the astronaut will cross the event horizon and reach the singularity, in a finite time. Once the astronaut crossed the event horizon, it will be impossible to observe him from the outside. His body will gradually become invisible, and as he gets closer to the singularity, the gravitational difference between his head and feet will become more tangible, and he will feel like he is being stretched, and finally torn (see "spaghettization"). Near the singularity, the difference between the forces becomes strong enough to disintegrate the body into atoms. The point where the force differences become significant depends on the size of the black hole. Large black holes, such as those located at the centers of galaxies, this point is far within the event horizon, and the astronaut has a chance to cross the event horizon safely. In a small black hole, however, these differences become substantial long before reaching the event horizon.

Entropy and Hawking Radiation

In 1971, Hawking showed under general conditions that the total area of the event horizons of any collection of classical black holes can never decrease, even if they collide and merge. This result, now known as the second law of black hole mechanics, is remarkably similar to the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the total entropy of a system can never decrease. Bekenstein suggested that a black hole should have an entropy, and that it should be proportional to its horizon area.

The link with the laws of thermodynamics was further strengthened by Hawking's discovery in 1975 that quantum field theory predicts that a black hole radiates blackbody radiation at a constant temperature. This seemingly causes a violation of the second law of black hole mechanics, since the radiation will carry away energy from the black hole causing it to shrink. The radiation, however also carries away entropy, and it can be proven under general assumptions that the sum of the entropy of the matter surrounding a black hole and one quarter of the area of the horizon as measured in Planck units is in fact always increasing. This allows the formulation of the first law of black hole mechanics as an analogue of the first law of thermodynamics, with the mass acting as energy, the surface gravity as temperature and the area as entropy.

One puzzling feature is that the entropy of a black hole scales with its area rather than with its volume, since entropy is normally an extensive quantity that scales linearly with the volume of the system. This odd property lead to the suggestion of the holographic principle, whisuggests that anything that happens in volume of spacetime can be described by data on the boundary of that volume.

Hawking radiation is generated by the event horizon, and not to reveal information about the contents of the black hole. But despite this, it means that black holes are not completely black. Moreover, the phenomenon shows the mass of small black hole passing at the time. These effects are negligible scale astronomical objects, but their importance is growing with tiny black teachers, they control the laws of quantum mechanics. Tiny black holes are expected to evaporate, and finally disappear in a burst of energy. As such, all its mass black hole is growing is going to disappear, and there is a direct relationship between the rate of disappearance and mass.


d. Mathematical Overview

In 1915, Karl Schwarzschild found a mathematical solution to proving the existence of black holes, based on Einstein's theory of relativity. He developed a formula that describes the space-time warp near spherical and symmetrical object. He calculated that the "Schwarzschild radius" as a black hole's radius is called today. According to the formula, a gravitational object collapses into a black hole if its radius is smaller than a given number, known as the Schwarzschild radius. Below this radius, time-space is so warped, that any beam of light emitted from this region, regardless of its direction, will move toward the center of the system. Since the theory of relativity denies any faster than light movement, everything below the Schwarzschild radius will collapse towards the center. At this point, a gravitational singularity will be formed.

Assuming constant density, the Schwarzschild radius of a body is proportional to its mass, but the radius is proportional to the cube root of the volume and hence the mass. Therefore, as one accumulates matter at normal density (1 g/cm3, for example, the density of water), its Schwarzschild radius increases more quickly than its radius. At around 150,000,000 times the mass of the Sun, such an accumulation will fall inside its own Schwarzschild radius and thus it would be a supermassive black hole of 150,000,000 solar masses. (Supermassive black holes up to 18 billion solar masses have been observed. The supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy (4.5 0.4 million solar masses) constitutes observationally the most convincing evidence for the existence of black holes in general.

It is thought that large black holes like these don't form directly in one collapse of a cluster of stars. Instead they may start as a stellar-sized black hole and grow larger by the accretion of matter and other black holes.

A type of a wormhole forming a bridge between the two regions in space and connecting two universes is named after Schwarzschild. This is the most unstable type of wormhole, collapsing immediately upon formation.

Those who are interested in the detailed mathematical calculation can see it here.


e. Can they be discovered?

Despite its invisible interior, a black hole can be observed through its interaction with other matter. A black hole can be inferred by tracking the movement of a group of stars that orbit a region in space. Alternatively, when gas falls into a stellar black hole from a companion star, the gas spirals inward, heating to very high temperatures and emitting large amounts of radiation that can be detected from earthbound and Earth-orbiting telescopes.

But all these phenomena exist not only in the vicinity of black holes, but also around other objects such as neutron stars. The discovery of accretion disks and unconventional trajectories can only indicate the presence of very massive object in that area, but says nothing about its nature. Identifying such an object as a black hole requires the elimination of the possibility of such a massive object (or objects) existing in that area. Astrophysicists are in agreement about this, although according to general relativity, any concentration of mass in sufficient density will eventually collapse into a black hole.


f. So where are they?

Black holes are commonly classified according to their mass, independent of angular momentum J or electric charge Q. The size of a black hole, as determined by the radius of the event horizon, or Schwarzschild radius.

A star-mass Black hole- the mass of a normal star (from 4 to 15 times the mass of our sun).

Possible star-mass black holes were located mainly due to finding accretion disks of the appropriate speed and size, without the hot radiation jets emitted by other objects. Such black holes may be involved in gamma-ray bursts, but many observations linking these eruptions to Supernovae reduced the chances of this


Intermediate-Mass Black Hole (IMBH), its mass several hundred times larger than the Suns; Such these black holes may be the cause of the formation of supermassive black holes.

supermassive black hole its mass equal to one percent of a typical galaxys mass (evidence of the existance of such black holes comes not from observing them, but from observing the behavior of other objects around them).

Possible massive black holes first appeared in the form of quasars and active galaxies discovered by astronomers in the 1960ies. Converting mass into energy through friction with the accretion disc of a black hole is believed to be the only explanation to the enormous amounts of energy generated by such objects. The presentiation of this theory in the 1970ies alleviated a lot of the opposition to the belief that quasars are actually distant galaxies - no physical mechanism can produce that amount of energy.

Astronomers have also found evidence of supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies. In 1998, compelling evidence were found that a supermassive black hole of more than 2 million solar masses is located near the Sagittarius A* region in the center of the Milky Way galaxy. More recent results using additional data indicate that the supermassive black hole is more than 4 million solar masses.

According to existing models, it seems quite reasonable that in the center of each galaxy there is a black hole - a massive vacuum cleaner to dust and gas and emits more energy, to the nearest mass ends the process stops. These models are also well explain why quasars in our environment. Often reported on the formation of micron black holes on Earth in particle accelerators, but this was never proved.

To be continued


b. Means and methods of space travel


Hyper Space





Those terms are in very common in Sci Fi literature:

warp drive


jump drive

For a list of examples click here.



A wormhole is a hypothetical topological feature of spacetime that would be, fundamentally, a "shortcut" through spacetime. If a two-dimensional surface is folded along a third dimension, it allows one to picture a wormhole "bridge", a tunnel with two ends each in separate points in spacetime.

Why a "Wormhole"? Have you ever seen a worm on an apple?

Sci Fi literature features many uses for wormholes and black holes, though the most common is as a shortcut for various methods of FTL space. The term appears in two main interpretations - Wormholes connecting two points in space and wormholes connecting "parallel universes". Note that sometimes the terms "wormhole" and "black hole" are confused, because in the '60s and '70s the differences between the two were not quite clear (in Science, not to mention in Science Fiction). Many different methods for entering and exiting a wormhole (preferably in one piece) are also described.

For a list of examples click here.




For a list of examples click here.

Generations Ship


Another way to travel through space is to sail the Generations Ship. This is a spaceship built not for FTL speed, but rather for resilience to the vast distances and to any difficulty that may arise in space. It must be completely a independent entity in every way - from energy and technology (mainly propulsion, navigation and communication) to food and clothing production, education and leisure time, and anything else a person might need during his life time. It must also have extraordinarily reliable systems that could be maintained by the ship's inhabitants over long periods of time. Large, self-sustaining space habitats would be needed.

This scenario is not devoid some major problems - biological, social and moral ones. In my opinion, they are the mainly the following

1. Estimates of the minimum viable population vary. The results of a 2005 study from Rutgers University theorized that the native population of the Americas is the descendants of only 70 individuals who crossed the land bridge between Asia and North America. However, anthropologist Dr. John Moore estimated in 2002 that a population of 150 to 180 would allow normal reproduction for 60 to 80 generations, equivalent to 2000 years. Careful genetic screening and use of a sperm bank from Earth would also allow a smaller starting base with negligible inbreeding.

Generation ships are based on the human life span not changing dramatically. Even though people are living longer and longer it would take a lifespan extension beyond anyone's forecasts for any one individual to live throughout the entire journey.

2. And how would the intermediate generations (for example, those destined to be born, reproduce, and die in transit, without actually seeing tangible results of their efforts) feel about their forced existence on such a ship?

3. The ship would have to be so big, it's hard to it could be built on Earth, let alone launched from it.

4. For gaining experience before sending generation ships to the stars, such a habitat could be effectively isolated from the rest of humanity for a century or more, but remain close enough to Earth for help (an hour after departure is not the time to discover that you suffer from claustrophobia, for example, and six months at the space station do not really count). This would test whether thousands of humans can survive on their own before sending them beyond the reach of help. Small artificial closed ecosystems, including Biosphere 2, have been built in an attempt to work out the engineering difficulties in such a system, with mixed results.

And yet, assuming all the problems are solved, the ship will sail carrying a genetically diverse and carefully balanced crew (as opposed to just "two by two" as in Noah's Ark, which can also be seen as a kind of a "Generations Ship"), and within its computer a thorough and minutely detailed plan of tasks and activities for the duration of the voyage. Contrary to conventional ships of this kind, the team will not be in a cryosleep (or any another kind of hibernation) but will be awake and fully active. Naturally, of course, people will die one by one. On the other hand, obviously, children will also be born (of course, within the framework of the careful genetic plan, which will prevent, among other things, an uncontrolled growth of number of passengers, to the point of ZPG). In time, the original crewmembers will all die, their children will grow up, have children, grow old and die, and so on and so forth, generation after generation (hence the name "Generations Ship").

The further the ship is away from Earth, keeping in touch will be more difficult, even assuming that the communication system will run in "real time" and will in fact be independent of distance and time (but really, for how far and for how long?) Updated information about developments on Earth and updates for the tasks and activities log will gradually decrease, until they stop arriving altogether. The more outdated the information in the ship's computer becomes, the Earth will become a vague memory, part of the collective mythology of the tenth or the hundredth generation of the ships passengers.

But assuming that the ship will continue to operate smoothly and according to the computers programming, the coveted moment will come when the destination, a planet in another solar system, will loom in the horizon, suitable for human colonization by all indications. The passengers, none of whom had ever seen (or will ever see) Earth except in outdated (or holographic) images in the ships computer, will disembark and begin to build a new home and a new society. The social structure they will establish will be probably be very different than the one we know. The ship, destined to never to fly again, will become the center of the new settlement, and in time be incorporated in the mythology created during the journey... the end?

Some have compared planets with life (in particular Earth) to generation ships. This idea is usually called "Spaceship Earth".

And on a trivial note, when have you ever seen in Star Trek a Starship landing (as opposed to docking)?

Answer: Never. Not even in the new Movie. In the early days of the show, the creators decided that filming takeoffs and landings would be too complicated technically, and therefore they invented the various transporting devices ("Beam me up, Scotty", remember?) which gradually developed and became widely used in different versions, even alongside all kinds of and landings and takeoffs. The Andromeda by the way, also a part of Roddenberry's legacy, which was "the size of five aircraft carriers", was actually seen landing in one of the episodes.

And more Trivia: While the Stargate Transporters are Rings Transporters and the Star Trek Transporters are Ray Transporters, the principle is the same, even though they decided to pass on the Ring Transporters and use Transporters almost identical to those seen in Star Trek

And yes, "Transporter Psychosis" is alive and well in Stargate Atlantis

The version of the Generations Ship scenario described above is only one of many (and in my opinion, the most moderate one). There are many other versions. I did not find cinematic examples dealing with this scenario, and televised examples are not common either, but it is very common in science fiction literature.

For a list of examples click here.

Solar Sails


The earliest reference to solar sailing was in Jules Verne's 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, coming only a year after Maxwell's equations were published. The next known publication came more than 20 years later when Georges Le Faure and Henri De Graffigny published a four-volume science fiction novel in 1889, The Extraordinary Adventures of a Russian Scientist, which included a spacecraft propelled by solar pressure. B. Krasnogorskii published On the Waves of the Ether in 1913. In his story backed by technical calculations, a small, bullet-shaped capsule is surrounded by a circular mirror 35 meters in diameter. It travels through space by means of solar pressure on the mirror.





For a list of examples click here.

Space Elevator


Another method making its first strides into the realm of science is known as "space elevator" or TSE (Tethered Space Elevator).

>img border="0" src="artimages/image5e.jpg" width="375" height="500" align="left>

The concept of a space elevator dates back to 1895 when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky proposed a free-standing "Tsiolkovsky" tower reaching from the surface of Earth to geostationary orbit. Most recent discussions focus on tensile structures (specifically, tethers) reaching from geostationary orbit to the ground. This structure would be held in tension between Earth and the counterweight in space like a guitar string held taut. Space elevators have also sometimes been referred to as beanstalks, space bridges, space lifts, space ladders, skyhooks, orbital towers, or orbital elevators.

In 1959 another Russian scientist, Yuri N. Artsutanov, suggested a more feasible proposal. Artsutanov suggested using a geostationary satellite as the base from which to deploy the structure downward. By using a counterweight, a cable would be lowered from geostationary orbit to the surface of Earth, while the counterweight was extended from the satellite away from Earth, keeping the center of gravity of the cable motionless relative to Earth. Artsutanov's idea was Introductionduced to the Russian-speaking public in an interview published in the Sunday supplement of Komsomolskaya Pravda in 1960, but was not available in English until much later.

In 1966, Isaacs, Vine, Bradner and Bachus, four American engineers, started to seriously consider the issue of the material used to make a cable over 35,000 kilometers (22,000 miles) long will be made. They found that the strength required would be twice that of any known material existing at the time, including graphite, quartz, and diamond.

In 1975 another American scientist, Jerome Pearson, reinvented the concept yet again. He designed a tapered cross section that would be better suited to building the elevator. The completed cable would be thickest at the geostationary orbit, where the tension was greatest, and would be narrowest at the tips to reduce the amount of weight per unit area of cross section that any point on the cable would have to bear. He suggested using a counterweight that would be slowly extended out to 144,000 kilometers (90,000 miles, almost half the distance to the Moon) as the lower section of the elevator was built. His analysis also accounted for disturbances such as the gravitation of the Moon, wind and moving payloads up and down the cable.

After the development of carbon nanotubes in the 1990s, engineer David Smitherman of NASA/Marshall's Advanced Projects Office realized that the high strength of these materials might make the concept of an orbital skyhook feasible. He put together a workshop at the Marshall Space Flight Center, inviting many scientists and engineers to discuss concepts and compile plans for an elevator to turn the concept into a reality. The publication he edited, compiling information from the workshop, "Space Elevators: An Advanced Earth-Space Infrastructure for the New Millennium". Click here to view a summary presentation showing how the concept is supposed to work.

Another American scientist, Bradley C. Edwards, suggested creating a 100,000 km (62,000 mi) long paper-thin ribbon using a carbon nanotube composite material. He chose a ribbon type structure rather than a cable because that structure might stand a greater chance of surviving impacts by meteoroids. Supported by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, the work of Edwards was expanded to cover the deployment scenario, climber design, power delivery system, orbital debris avoidance, anchor system, surviving atomic oxygen, avoiding lightning and hurricanes by locating the anchor in the western equatorial Pacific, construction costs, construction schedule, and environmental hazards. The largest holdup to Edwards' proposed design is the technological limit of the tether material. His calculations call for a fiber composed of epoxy-bonded carbon nanotubes with a minimal tensile strength of 130 GPa (19 million psi) (including a safety factor of 2); however, tests in 2000 of individual single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs), which should be notably stronger than an epoxy-bonded rope, indicated the strongest measured as 52 GPa (7.5 million psi). Multi-walled carbon nanotubes have been measured with tensile strengths up to 63 GPa (9 million psi).

Edwards said he hoped to have a completed plan of the elevator within a year (i. e. in late 2004). According to Edwards, launches are expected to be rather boring, without the smoke, fire and noise usually associated with rocket launches...

On September 13th 2003 a conference of scientists was held in Santa Fe to discuss practical plans for building a space elevator, probably from a base somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. They estimated that the budget required for the project would be approximately $ 7 billion.

In 2008, the book "Leaving the Planet by Space Elevator", by Dr. Bradley Edwards and Philip Ragan, was published in Japanese and entered the Japanese best seller list. This has led to a Japanese announcement of intent to build a Space Elevator at a projected price tag of 5 billion. In a report by Leo Lewis, Tokyo correspondent of The Times newspaper in England, plans by Shuichi Ono, chairman of the Japan Space Elevator Association, are unveiled. Lewis says: "Japan is increasingly confident that its sprawling academic and industrial base can solve those [construction] issues, and has even put the astonishingly low price tag of a trillion yen (5 billion/ $8 billion) on building the elevator. Japan is renowned as a global leader in the precision engineering and high-quality material production without which the idea could never be possible."

So what has to happen before we get to take a trip into space with the space elevator?

The tower from which the cables stretch will have be built on the equator, to minimize the risk of exposure to weather conditions. The position of the towers on the equator also allows alignment with the geostationary orbit directly above the equator. From each tower 4 to 6 36,000-km long cables will stretch, with their center of mass in a geostationary orbit. Each cable will carry an electrically powerd Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV), ferrying passengers and cargo from earth to space and back. The cost of carrying a space shuttle weighing 12 000 kg on the space elevator will be about $ 177,000. In comparison, a person carrying 150 kg of luggage will only pay $ 222! Each cable will be connected to another cable, used both as a counterweight and as a means of launching cargo to higher orbits, or for launching satellites and spacecraft to other orbits or to moon.

The cable must be made of a material with a large tensile strength/mass ratio. For example, the Edwards space elevator design assumes a cable material with a specific strength of at least 100,000 kN/(kg/m). This value takes into consideration the entire weight of the space elevator. A space elevator would need a material capable of sustaining a length of 4,960 kilometers (3082 mi) of its own weight at sea level to reach a geostationary altitude of 36,000 km (22,300 mi) without tapering and without breaking.

Therefore, a material with very high strength and lightness is needed.

(image 5e, from Wikipedia)

For a list of examples click here.


Summary Table

This table listing (almost) all the propulsion systems known today, is taken with slight changes from the Wikipedia Encyclopedia, where it appears both in Hebrew and English (the versions are not identical).



Method Effective Exhaust Velocity
Firing Duration
Propulsion methods in current use      
Solid rocket 1,000 - 4,000 103 - 107 minutes
Hybrid rocket 1,500 - 4,200 <0.1 - 107 minutes
Monopropellant rocket 1,000 - 3,000 0.1 - 100 milliseconds - minutes
Bipropellant rocket 1,000 - 4,700 0.1 - 107 minutes
Tripropellant rocket 2,500 - 4,500   minutes
Resistojet rocket 2,000 - 6,000 10-2 - 10 minutes
Arcjet rocket 4,000 - 12,000 10-2 - 10 minutes
Hall effect thruster () 8,000 - 50,000 10-3 - 10 months
Electrostatic ion thruster 15,000 - 80,000 10-3 - 10 months
Field Emission Electric Propulsion (FEEP) 100,000 - 130,000 10-6 - 10-3 weeks
Magnetoplasmadynamic thruster (MPD) 20,000 - 100,000 100 weeks
Pulsed plasma thruster (PPT) ~ 20,000 ~ 0.1 ~ 2,000 - ~ 10,000 hours
Pulsed inductive thruster (PIT) 50,000 20 months
Nuclear electric rocket As electric propulsion method used
Currentlfeasible propulsion methods      
Solar sails N/A 9 per km
(at 1 AU)
Tether propulsion N/A 1 - 1012 minutes
Mass drivers (for propulsion) 30,000 - ? 104 - 108 months
Orion Project (Near term nuclear pulse propulsion) 20,000 - 100,000 109 - 1012 several days
Variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket (VASIMR) 10,000 - 300,000 40 - 1,200 days - months
Nuclear thermal rocket 9,000 105 minutes
Solar thermal rocket 7,000 - 12,000 1 - 100 weeks
Radioisotope rocket 7,000-8,000   months
Air-augmented rocket 5,000 - 6,000 0.1 - 107 seconds-minutes
Liquid air cycle engine 4,500 1000 - 107 seconds-minutes
SABRE 30,000/4,500 0.1 - 107 minutes
Dual mode propulsion rocket      
Technologies requiring further research      
Magnetic sails N/A Indefinite Indefinite
Mini-magnetospheric plasma propulsion 200,000 ~1 N/kW months
Nuclear pulse propulsion (Project Daedalus' drive) 20,000 - 1,000,000 109 - 1012 years
Gas core reactor rocket 10,000 - 20,000 103 - 106  
Nuclear salt-water rocket 100,000 103 - 107 half hour
Beam-powered propulsion As propulsion method powered by beam
Fission sail      
Fission-fragment rocket 1,000,000    
Nuclear photonic rocket 300,000,000 10-5 - 1 years-decades
Fusion rocket 100,000 - 1,000,000    
Space Elevator N/A N/A Indefinite
Significantly beyond current engineering      
Antimatter catalyzed nuclear pulse propulsion 200,000 - 4,000,000   days-weeks
Antimatter rocket 10,000,000 - 100,000,000    
Bussard ramjet 2,240,623 - 20,000,000   indefinite
Fictional, unorthodox or otherwise of disputed physical rigor      
Redshift rocket      
Gravitoelectromagnetic toroidal launchers      

2. Computers, Networks and AI; the "Brain in a Jar"


1. So what are we really afraid of?


A group of scientists worked hard day and night to build the ultimate computer. After they plugged it in, they had only one question to ask it: "Is there a God?" The answer was quick to comie "There is now

This wonderful short story has several versions, and I will quote only three of them here. Please note the slight differences of emphasis between the versions, but this is obviously the best summation of all of our fears from the computer and its domination of our lives and our future.

David Chan's version "The Big Network"

"the Reply" By Frederick Brown
Scientists were preparing an experiment to ask the ultimate question.

They had worked for months gathering one each of every computer that was built. Finally the big day was at hand. All the computers were linked together. They asked the question, "IS THERE A GOD?"
It was decided that all the computers in the world should be connected into one big network. The idea was to be able to ask questions never before put to computers, questions of great significance to all.

The television cameras were there with the scientists when the final connections were to be made. The announcer spoke in hushed tones, and the cameras moved in for a close up of the event.

An attractive young woman at the keyboard waited and smiled as the ceremony of throwing a switch took place, and then acted on the cue that followed by typing in a question into the new network. There was a period of silence followed by a paper movement at the printer beside the keyboard.

A clerk tore off the page and took the printout to the head scientist at centre stage, who first fussed with his glasses but eventually did read it aloud. His voice was bold and sure as he read out the question: "The question, ladies and gentlemen, was a universal one: Is there a God?"
A group of dignitaries from around the world gathered around the mainframe computer to ask the ultimate question, "Is there a God?"
Suddenly there was a loud crash, and in a brilliant explosion of silicon and plastic the computers fused into what appeared to the scientists to be one large computer in place of the many smaller ones.    
One of the scientists raced to the printer as it finally output its answer.

"There is now," read the printout.
A short pause followed as he pre-read the answer, then his voice broke and his hands trembled as he read the final words of the message: "There is... now!" To which the computer replies, "Now there is."


So what are we really so afraid of? And if were that afraid, why doesnt our fear prevent us from charging ahead and increasing our dependence on the computer? In an article entitled Imagining Futures, Dramatizing Fears, by Daniel Chandler, possible answers to this question are raised.

a. the Creature rebels against its Creator

The relationship between man and machine, whatever the kind, has always been complex and ambivalent, not to mention emotionally charged. For example, we refer to the car in the feminine (emotion), but on the other hand we refer to the computer in the masculine (intelligence). The machine has "quirks", the computer has "bugs" (incidentally, the origin of the word is indeed bugs, real bugs are, who used to chew up computer cables when computers took up entire rooms, instead of a small corner of your desk or your palm).

If we go back to the beginning, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein builds a machine that kills him;

In Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, the common worker fights the machine breaking him;

Isaac Asimov, the creator of the laws of robotics, ostensibly designed to protect humanity from being harmed by the machine, returns to the story "the Answer" in his story "the Last question", published in the anthology "Nine Tomorrows". The story discusses man's ability to deal with the entropy phenomenon and overcome it;

Arthur C. Clarke, creator of the deadly HAL 9000 returns to the theme of the computer as God in his story "the 9 Billion Names of God".

The examples in which the machine, and even technology in general, is the enemy of man, are many and varied, but at some point the tables were turned and the machine in its turn is trying to find peace with man and return to humanity

Is real peaceful coexistence between man and machine possible, while maintaining this delicate balance? The issue is still highly debatable...

b. The fear of knowledge or the Frankenstein Complex

The full title of Mary Shelley's novel was "Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus". One of the best-known stories in Greek mythology is the story of the Titan Prometh, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mortals, and was severely punished for it. Zeus, father of the gods, was very afraid of how the people would use this new gift, and probably with good reason...

Mary Shelley warned against the dangers of knowledge at the tender age of 19. Her obvious conclusion was that only God can create life (a conclusion that many scientists these days find it difficult to internalize...)

It should be noted that the monster created by Frankenstein in Shelley's novel was not inherently evil; Frankenstein's crazy assistant, Igor, accidentally stole the brain of an even crazier criminal from a cemetery, which was implanted in the monster. In the novel, Frankenstein the creator is panicked by consequences of his actions, deserting his creation, and he is the one who runs away, not the creature. Even when he promises to create a mate for him, again he gets cold feet and changes his mind.

In his cinematic portrayals. Frankenstein became the prototype of the mad scientist, playing with dangerous knowledge.

See also the Frankenstein Scenario.

c. the fear of losing control

The fear of losing control over technology is age old. Technology is considered "good" as long as it is under complete human control, but what happens when it goes out of hand (the Golem, the Sorcerer's Apprentice, the Genie in the bottle etc)?

However, Asimov has consistently favored the idea of a machine-run society. In "The Evitable Conflict", world government is controlled by computer, the economy is stable, and there is no more underemployment, overproduction, famine or war. In this story, Asimov 'suggests that machine control is superior to economic and sociological forces, the whims of climate, and the fortunes of war. Mankind, he intimates, has never been free; machine control is just a different - and superior - form of control'. In Asimov's 'The Life and Times of Multivac', a computer also runs a stable, peaceful world system in which people have a comfortable life style, but many come to feel that they are like slaves in this system and they trade peace and security for freedom by shutting it down.

For more about Asimov and the Laws of Robotics click here.

Frank Herbert wrote in Dune, set thousands of years after the Butlerian Jihad, a bloody and destructive war between humans and machines, in which humans defeated the machines: "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a man's mind," and "Thou shalt not make a machine to counterfeit a human mind

He too expressed concern about the machine taking over humans.

For more about Herbert and the Dune Universe click here.

Gordon Dicksons story Computers Dont Argue illustrates some of the dangers of excessive automation.

And the ultimate example is, of course (and still) 2001s Monstrous HAL 9000.

Just in case youre interested, HAL 9000 is still alive and well, thank you, and still serves as a model for a possible future development of the computer. It has a twin sister, SAL, and if you remember, she had a short guest appearances both in "2001" and in "2010" as HAL's double in the control center on Earth. Incidentally, Clarke finished shortly before his death to write at his home in Sri Lanka the final part of the saga, 3001.

d. Fearing the Machines superiority

The machine's ability to efficiently perform routine, monotonous and repetitive tasks is not in doubt, but can the machine also create, write prose or poetry? Even Asimov is not convinced. In one of his stories **title**, a robotic test pilot is replaced by a human because only a human can deal with the unexpected, but other stories portray computers as having sensitivity, creativity and intuition. In I, Robot, when detective Spooner confronts Sonny the robot with that very question, the Robot replies, "Can you?"

But is that the only advantage of human intelligence? And what will happen the day we fully understand the workings of the brain, or at least learn to mimic its neural network? Would we then be able to that mans advantage over the machine is gone?

Anyway, the issue of defining artificial intelligence, just like the issue of defining intelligent life, is philosophical rather than scientific. After all, we tend to attribute characteristics of intellectual superiority to anything we do not understand. Once we understand the workings of the machine, it stops being "intelligent". We do not understand the human brain, and therefore we have no doubt that human intelligence is superior to artificial intelligence.

The problem is that as long as we do not understand how the creative process takes place in the human brain, it is very difficult to apply it to computers. So I will conclude with a quote by Daniel Chandler from E T, where the boy Elliot asks his older brother, "How does one explain school to a higher intelligence?"

e. Inferiority before the Machine

'Surely the great fear is not that machinery will harm us - but that it will supplant us'.

'It is not that it will render us ineffective - but that it will make us obsolete'.

Asimov argued that 'The ultimate machine is an intelligent machine and there is only one basic plot to the intelligent-machine story - that it is created to serve man, but that it ends by dominating man. It cannot exist without threatening to supplant us, and it must therefore be destroyed or we will be'.

By the way, Asimov has since changed his mind, and my personal opinion is also that for now, we can relax. The computer that can really replace the human brain, and especially its associative ability, is yet to be born, not because the delay in computer research, but because of the delay in brain research. Science has not yet reached sufficient understanding of the brain to mimic it in a laboratory, and even the latest, most advanced super-computer is still not capable of this.

2. Man Vs. Machine or Man and Machine?

a. What more can computerization achieve?

A computer speaking in a human voice and following voice commands? Already exists

Increasing the number of functions and the speed of performance? This is only a technical problem.

The transfer of human functions to fully computerized control? This is also happening right in front of us, though at a slower pace.

Building more and more complex models (scientific of all kinds, military)? This is also only a matter of time.

b. What cannot be achieved?

According to one opinion, which I adhere to, the computer, no matter how sophisticated, is actually a Golem in the sense that it is completely dependant on its human programmer and operator (at least for now). In the foreseeable future, the chances of this Golem rebelling against its creator are still slim.

The computer can build us the most sophisticated weapons, but we would never give it the ability to decide for itself when to use the weapons and against whom. That would really be a nightmare...

The Universal Translator is also still far away from us, and even the most advanced translation software is nowhere near that level.

Full photo identification? There are still have difficulties.

A Computer beats a human in a game of chess - is the ability to play chess really a sign of true intelligence? Or perhaps the only advantage of the computer on the human, as Chandler put it, is its ability to quickly select the most probable option among millions or billions? We all remember Garry Kasparovs victory over Deep Thought, Deep Blues predecessor, and also his defeatby a chess software in 1995.

Incidentally, the chess game in "2001" was a contest between two intelligent beings, one of which was clearly superior, but that does not mean that HAL was infallible. It should be noted that originally, in the novel, HAL was preprogrammed to lose 50 percent of the time, so that the astronauts do not lose interest

Though we did come a long way from the Tamagotchi (where is it today, by the way?) to the AIBO, the road to full AI is still very long. First we have to solve all the problems related to social skills, comprehension, sharing cultural background and knowledge, and morality.

And speaking of morality, dealing with issue of machine morality is an integral part of any serious discussion of the evolution of computing and artificial intelligence, and more specifically, can a machine be given morality? And maybe it will develop an independent morality of its own, not necessarily compatible with ours, and even perhaps contrary to it?

British mathematician and philosopher Alan Turing (who among other things is credited with a substantial contribution to the Allied victory in WWII due to his part in cracking the top secret German cipher, the Enigma), proposed as early as in 1950 a test for measuring the artificial intelligence. The test is very simple you put a man and a machine in one room, a researcher in another room, and he puts identical questions to both. If he fails to tell who the respondent is, the man or the machine, according to the answers, the machine passes the test. The reliability of the test remains controversial to this day, but a better method for measuring machine intelligence has not been found. Incidentally, this is very reminiscent of the test Deckard gave Rachel in Blade Runner, except it was called the Voight-Kampf test (according to one version, as we recall, Deckard himself was a machine)

And to end on a trivial note, as usual Do you think the AIBO would have passed the Turing test?


The Turing Test

The Voight-Kampff Test

The Fermi Paradox

The Drake Equation

Computing Machinery and Intelligence by Alan Turing

The Rare Earth hypothesis

3. VR Science or Science Fiction?

In virtual reality, however, progress is very rapid. Today anyone can play games based on virtual reality. The interfaces already exist, and are long out of the realm of Sci Fi.

Proof of this can be seen in at least two non Science Fiction Movies in which such applications are used. Clint Eastwoods Firefox, made in 1982, shows a helmet attached to the pilot's brain by sensors, creating a direct interface between the brain and the plane's operating systems. The pilot's only problem in the Movie is that he has to think in the language used by the designer of the interface (in this case, Russian). In Disclosure, made in 1994, we see Michael Douglas wandering around in a virtual directory, being chased by a formidable Demi Moore. And not so many years ago the arrival of similar systems to our own air force was announced

The next step in this direction is probably fully holographic displays - that is, bulky, heavy screens (or flat and thin ones) on the table will no longer be necessary. The technology is already in advanced stages of development, and soon every person would be able to carry (or walk around with...) a small and light laptop with a holographic display instead of a screen, and the screen itself will become obsolete, as we have seen in the Movies such as "Paycheck" and "Minority Report", and long before that in TV series Time Trax (remember SELMA?)

In conclusion, I heard about the "brain in a jar" theory of for the first time in a philosophy of science fiction class given by Prof. Adi Tzemach. The topic of the discussion was whether we are nothing but brains in a jar lying on a shelf, and the world around us is nothing but a virtual world existing only in our imagination. The debate ended with the question "How do we know that we are not"?

I have to admit that the idea was a bit unsettling for me

3. Robotics and Cybernetics

1. Common Terminology

Defining the three main (and sometimes overlapping) terms:

a. Robot:



The word "robot" itself comes from a work of fiction, Karel Capek's play, R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) written in 1920 as a warming against technology going rampant.

The robot surpasses the automaton in its ability to detect abnormal conditions and react to them, including termination in case of a major malfunction, and in his ability to perform various tasks according to various alternating programs. Its sensors are highly sophisticated, and its control system includes a computer, or several computers.

The robot was born as a literary invention of the Science Fiction realm, and Isaac Asimov's robot stories particularly famous. But the robots currently in operation are not yet similar to those known to us from literature their range of action is much smaller, their discretion is much more limited, and mostly, they bear to outward similarity to human beings, unlike literary Androids - human-shaped robots, hard to distinguish from human beings.

But robotics, as it turns out, is not just a matter of technology. It all begins with Isaac Asimovs Laws of Robotics by. Asimov, a scientist (biochemist) a stickler for scientific accuracy (just like astronomer/astrophysicist Carl Sagan), formulated the laws of robotics (and the fundamental principles of Psychohistory) in a simple and clear manner. The Laws of Robotics became cornerstones both of Science Fiction literature and of the development of robotics.

b. Android:

The word is Greek in origin and means "in the likeness of a Human" (as opposed to a gender distinction). It was first used by French writer Mathias Villiers de l'Isle-Adam (1838-1889), in his novel "Eve of Tomorrow". In Literature and film, it used to indicate several types of man-made creatures:

1. A man-like robot;

2. A man-like Cyborg;

3. A man-like artificial yet mainly organic creature.

c. A Cyborg;

The term "Cyborg" usually indicates a creature made of a mixture of organic and mechanical parts, intended strengthen the capabilities of the former by adding the latter.

Cybernetics is the science dealing with the study of communication and interaction between man and machine, or between electronic systems and biological systems. The word originates from the Greek word "kybernites", or "captain", and figuratively, the man controlling the machine (and not vice versa)...

This science has applications in engineering, biology, organizational theory, psychology, and of course in computer science and robotics

Dealing with cybernetics also serves as a backdrop for dealing with profound philosophical questions, such as: Can machines think? Can a robot be creative or aware? And arent humans nothing but very complex automatons? And can psychological theories be constructed on the basis of computerized patterns?

According to the narrowest definition of the term, any person carrying a heart pacemaker can effectively be considered a Cyborg, once the device becomes an integral part of his body and he can not survive without it. Using technologies such as hearing aids, contact lenses etc also makes us Cyborgs according to this definition...

In 1960, Manfred Clynes and Nathan S. Kline coined the term cyborg, using it in an article in Astronautics Magazine about the advantages of self-regulating human-machine systems in outer space.

Kline believed that comcould be used in large scale epidemiological studies and streamline the administration of complex health facilities. In 1968 he oversaw the installation of a major computer center at Rockland, funded by the Federal government. He led the development of many computerized medical systems, which led to improvements in patient care.

2. Man-Machine Interface

Ever since Frank L. Baum's Tin Man, the connectivity and interface between man and Machine has been a very common theme in literature. Where does one end and the other begin?

In 1972 author Martin Caidin published a novel entitled Cyborg, featuring a man whose damaged body parts were gradually replaced by mechanical parts. The novel was adapted as the television series The Six Million Dollar Man, which gave as the memorable quote used as the title of this chapter. The protagonist was Steve Austin, an ex-astronaut who suffered a crash during a flight, leaving him with all but one limb destroyed, one blind eye, and other major injuries. At the same time, a secret branch of the American government, the Office of Strategic Operations (OSO) has taken an interest in the work of Dr. Rudy Wells in the field of bionics - the replacement of human body parts with mechanical prosthetics that (in the context of this novel) are more powerful than the original limbs. Wells also happens to be a close friend of Austin's, so when OSO chief Oscar Goldman "invites" (or rather, orders) Wells to rebuild Austin with bionics limbs, at the cost of six million dollars, Wells agrees, in spite of his reluctance to operate on his friend. Austin, by the way, remained completely human, as evidenced by his struggle to adjust to his new condition, culminating in a suicide attempt.

The story inspired a spin-off entitled the Bionic Woman.


3. On Robots, Cyborgs and Androids

Historical review

In 1st century AD and earlier, Ctesibius, Philo, Heron, and others described, described over a hundred machines and automata, including a fire engine, wind organ, coin-operated machine, and steam-powered aeliopile (see Pneumatica and Automata by Heron).

In 1206, Al-Jazari constructed the robot band, early programmable automata.

In c. 1495, Leonardo da Vinci constructed the mechanical knight, a design for a humanoid robot. The robot knight could stand, sit, raise its visor and independently maneuver its arms. The entire robotic system was operated by a series of pulleys and cables. It was first displayed at a celebration hosted by Duke Sforza at the court of Milan. Since the discovery of Leonardos sketchbook, the robot has been built faithfully based on Leonardo's design; this proved it was fully functional, as Leonardo had planned.

In 1738, Jacques de Vaucanson constructed the digesting Duck, Mechanical duck that was able to eat, flap its wings, and excrete.

In the 19th century, Hisashige Tanaka, one of the Founding Fathers of the modern day Toshiba corporation, designed the Karakuri toys, Japanese mechanical toys that served tea, fired arrows, and painted.

In c. 1860, Giovanni Luppis designed the Coastal fireship, remotely (mechanical) steered clockwork fire ship, based on an idea by an unknown officer of the Austrian Marine Artillery.

In Early 1870s, John Ericsson (pneumatic), John Louis Lay (electric wire guided), and Victor von Scheliha (electric wire guided) designed remotely controlled torpedos.

In 1898, Nikola Tesla designed the first radio controlled (wireless) vessel (torpedo).

In 1921, the first fictional automata called "robots" appear in the play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Karel Capek. The word Robot becomes a household word.

In 1928, W. H. Richards constructed Eric, a humanoid robot, based on a suit of armor with electrical actuators, and exhibited it at the annual exhibition of the Model Engineers Society in London

In 1930s, Westinghouse Electric Corporation onstructed Elektro, a humanoid robot seven feet tall, weighing 265 pounds, humanoid in appearance. It could walk by voice command, speak about 700 words (using a 78-rpm record player), smoke cigarettes, blow up balloons, and move his head and arms. Elektro's body consisted of a steel gear, cam and motor skeleton covered by an aluminum skin. His photoelectric "eyes" could distinguish red and green light. It was on exhibit at the 1939 New York World's Fair and reappeared at that fair in 1940, with "Sparko", a robot dog that could bark, sit, and beg.

In 1948, William Grey Walter constructed Elsie and Elmer, simple robots exhibiting biological behaviors

In 1956, Unimation, the world's first robot manufacturing company established by George Devol and his partner Joseph Engelberger, constructed the first commercial Robot, based on Devol's patents

In 1961, George Devol constructed Unimate, the first installed industrial robot, which worked on a General Motors assembly line at the Inland Fisher Guide Plant in Ewing Township, New Jersey.

In 1963, Fuji Yusoki Kogyo designed the Palletizer, the first palletizing robot.

In 1973, the KUKA Robot Group constructed Famulus, the first robot with six electromechanically driven axes.

In 1975, Victor Scheinman constructed PUMA, programmable universal manipulation arm, a Unimation product.

Literary review

Sci Fi literature features many kinds of robots, cyborgs and androids:

* The cute and friendly robot

* The robot in pursuit of humanity

The robot searches for his humanity and discovers (or rediscovers) it; In these cases, it is interesting to examine not only the robot's journey back to humanity, but also (and especially) the reaction of the close environment of the process.

* The robot who discovers he's being abused, turns against its creator and destroys him

* The more-human-that-human robot

Robots with a burning desire to simply be human, when in fact they are more human than most humans around them anyway.

* The monstrous/killer/emotionless robot

Incidentally, no matter which kind of robot we are dealing with, the general consensus is the hardest quality you can give a Robot (and the hardest for it to acquire) is a sense of humor. Have you ever seen a robot laugh or understand a joke? It wasnt so easy for Data, as we have seen in Worfs promotion ceremony in the opening of Star Trek: Generations, or for Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2, as he tries to deal with typical rebellious teenager John Connor, and AIs cute Haley Joel Osment can cry, but not laugh.

Just something to think about

Here are some examples:

Blade Runner
Dr. Who
Ghost in the Shell
Short Circuit 1+2
Universal Soldier
Bicentennial Man, the
I, Robot
Star Trek - TNG
Star Trek - TNG
Star Wars



And see the following table, taken from the 117th edition of the Encyclopedia Galactica **broken link** and describing the evolution of robotics according to Asimov:

Designation Appellation Comments In-use In-use Comments Appellation Designation
  "Robbie" Earth-use, non-talking nursemaid. 1996-2007AD 1996-2007AD Earth-use, non-talking nursemaid. "Robbie"  
SPD "Speedy" Designed for use on Mercury. Due to the hostile Mercurian environment, Law 3 strengthened. 2015AD 2015AD Designed for use on Mercury. Due to the hostile Mercurian environment, Law 3 strengthened. "Speedy" SPD
QT "Cutie" Designed to independently control the energy-beam producing Solar Stations. 2016AD 2016AD Designed to independently control the energy-beam producing Solar Stations. "Cutie" QT
MC     2016AD 2016AD     MC
DV   Designed to control six "subsidiary" robots. Used on the Asteroid Mines. 2017AD 2017AD Designed to control six "subsidiary" robots. Used on the Asteroid Mines.   DV
HB "Herbie" Construction accident enabled HB-34 to read human minds. 2021AD 2021AD Construction accident enabled HB-34 to read human minds. "Herbie" HB
MA "Emma" Designed to work in the storms on Titan 2025AD 2025AD Designed to work in the storms on Titan "Emma" MA
NS "Nestor" Assisted in the development of the hyperatomic motor at Hyper Base. Later models were equipped with a modified First Law . The new law was stated as "No robot may harm a human being". The modification made the NS robot "slightly unstable". 2029AD 2029AD Assisted in the development of the hyperatomic motor at Hyper Base. Later models were equipped with a modified First Law . The new law was stated as "No robot may harm a human being". The modification made the NS robot "slightly unstable". "Nestor" NS
  "The Brain" Immobile robot used by US Robots & Mechanical Men, Inc. to solve the mathematics of hyperspatial travel. 2029AD 2029AD Immobile robot used by US Robots & Mechanical Men, Inc. to solve the mathematics of hyperspatial travel. "The Brain"  
AL "Al" Designed to operate Lunar disintos. AL-76 lost on Earth. ????AD ????AD Designed to operate Lunar disintos. AL-76 lost on Earth. "Al" AL
ZZ ("Sissy" was suggested but discounted) The first series of robots designed by US Robots and Mechanical Men that were non-humanoid in appearance. Designed to explore the Jovian environment. see note 1 ????AD ????AD The first series of robots designed by US Robots and Mechanical Men that were non-humanoid in appearance. Designed to explore the Jovian environment. see note 1 ("Sissy" was suggested but discounted) ZZ
TN "Tony" Housekeeping robot ????AD ????AD Housekeeping robot "Tony" TN
LNE "Lenny" Designed to mine boron in the asteroid belt. ????AD ????AD Designed to mine boron in the asteroid belt. "Lenny" LNE
MEC   Demonstration model used during guided tours. takes two steps forward, says "Pleased to meet you.", shakes hands and takes two steps backwards. ????AD ????AD Demonstration model used during guided tours. takes two steps forward, says "Pleased to meet you.", shakes hands and takes two steps backwards.   MEC
EZ "Easy" Designed as a proof-reading robot. 2033-4AD 2033-4AD Designed as a proof-reading robot. "Easy" EZ
  R Nadila Chief personal robot of Vasilia Aliena.     Chief personal robot of Vasilia Aliena. R Nadila  
  R Daneel Olivaw   4720AD-????FE 4720AD-????FE   R Daneel Olivaw  
  R Giskard Reventlov   ????AD-4924AD ????AD-4924AD   R Giskard Reventlov  
  R Sammy Messenger robot 4721AD 4721AD Messenger robot R Sammy  
  R Geronimo Messenger robot 4724AD 4724AD Messenger robot R Geronimo  
RX-2475   Solarian robot in charge of Elijah Baley's welfare on his trip to Solaria. 4722AD 4722AD Solarian robot in charge of Elijah Baley's welfare on his trip to Solaria.   RX-2475
ACX-2745   Solarian robot assigned to Elijah Baley's dwelling during his visit to Solaria. 4722AD 4722AD Solarian robot assigned to Elijah Baley's dwelling dhis visit to Solaria.   ACX-2745
ACC-1129   Solarian robot specifically designed to initiate/terminate trimensional viewing in Elijah Baley's dwelling during his visit to Solaria. 4722AD 4722AD Solarian robot specifically designed to initiate/terminate trimensional viewing in Elijah Baley's dwelling during his visit to Solaria.   ACC-1129
  Faber Auroran household robot owned by Hans Fastolfe 4724AD 4724AD Auroran household robot owned by Hans Fastolfe Faber  
  Pandion Auroran household robot owned by Gladia Solaria. 4724AD 4724AD Auroran household robot owned by Gladia Solaria. Pandion  
  Borgraf Auroran household robot owned by Gladia Solaria. 4724AD 4724AD Auroran household robot owned by Gladia Solaria. Borgraf  
  Debret Auroran robot owned by Vasilia Aliena. 4724AD 4724AD Auroran robot owned by Vasilia Aliena. Debret  
  Brundij Auroran robot owned by Santirix Gremionis. 4724AD 4724AD Auroran robot owned by Santirix Gremionis. Brundij  
  Landeree Performed the task of overseer of the Zorberlon estate on Solaria. 4924AD 4924AD Performed the task of overseer of the Zorberlon estate on Solaria. Landeree  
  R Ernott Second, Auroran humanoid robot. Attempted, unsuccessfully, to destroy Giskard on Earth. 4924AD 4924AD Auroran humanoid robot. Attempted, unsuccessfully, to destroy Giskard on Earth. R Ernott Second,  
  R Dors Venabili   ?????-12048GE ?????-12048GE   R Dors Venabili  


For a Cyborg Database click here.

For a list of Cyborgs in Sci Fi click here.

For a list of fictional robots and androids in literature and cinema click here.

Cyborg Citizen by Chris Hables Gray

4. Genetics and Genetic Manipulation or the Mad Scientist


In the introduction to his series of articles entitled Screening DNA Exploring the Cinema-Genetics Interface (1999), Stephen Nottingham writes:

The interface between movies and DNA is informed by a common terminology. Scientists borrowed from the vocabulary of cinema from the inception of genetic engineering. In film editing, a cut is an edit between one image or shot and another, while a splice is the physical join between two pieces of film Genetic engineers visualise the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecule as a long strip of genes, from which different units are cut out and others are spliced in. Fragments of DNA from different origins are spliced together to form recombinant DNA, in an analogous way to how a film editor manipulates frames. In both cases, the manipulation can be said to create new meaning.

The genetic code and a completed film are, in this sense, both texts that are open to reading. Science writers, aware of the power of metaphor, have also described genes as a computer code, a river of information and "selfish" replicators, among other things. Metaphoric devices (e.g. synecdoche, metonymy, symbol, index and icon) also play a key role in film grammar. Terminology from genetics is now increasingly passing back into the cinema. Computer technology, for example, enables the cloning of images in special effects shots. Virtual actors can also be cloned from celluloid cells, which contain information left by deceased stars, for instance, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley or Steve McQueen. Cloning is popularly perceived as a way of transcending death, like being immortalised upon the silver screen.

The Scenarios

Scenarios of thiskind can be devided into several main categories:

1. Cloning and Cross-Breeding Scenarios

Well start at the end. The process of mapping the human genome is completed, cloning organic beings has met with some success (see the late Dolly the sheep) and some progress was achieved in human cloning, despite all efforts to stop it or at least regulate it. Recently we even heard that Dollys "Father" was given a permit to continue working on human cloning. At this stage we can still say with certainty that the rumors about a fully successful cloning of a human are probably both premature and exaggerated.
The idea of human cloning is not new, and it is very common in Science Fiction literature and cinema. It usually has several purposes:

Returning a loved one (or a venerated leader) to life;

Creating a copy out of a desire to perpetuate certain traits;

Creating a raw material bank for organs and tissues for transplant.

Clones are usually presented as faded and less intelligent copies of the "original", though sometimes they can evolve and achieve full self awareness of their own and even superiority over the original", which Nottingham refers to as a "time-delayed twin" in his book.

The question of the location of "intelligence" and "awareness" in the genetic process is a highly controversial one, but Sci Fi has a solution for that too - memory transplants.

Incidentally, contrary to popular opinion, clones usually begin their lives as embryos, just like any other baby, and not as adults. Therefore there is no reason why they shouldnt evolve independently and achieve full awareness of their own, a result which could be the exact opposite of the intentions of their creator.

2. Homo Gestalt Scenarios

Description of the group every member has its own uniqueness (or undistinguished), but together they become an unstoppable force.

3. Human and Super Human: Genetically Engineered Soldiers Scenarios

This idea was born probably distortion and interpretation of "natural selection" and its concentration Survivor fittest ". Stories about genetic experiments designed to create a superman, mostly for military or covert, are very common. Typically results in destructive to everyone involved (not just science fiction).

4. From the Golem to Frankenstein: Mad Scientist Scenarios

It all began one evening in 1816, when a group of young intellectuals and writers decided to hold a competition for writing horror stories. Among the stories written that night were the sory that inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula, and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, although it was published only two years later.

Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein" to relieve her boredom while her husband was busy writing poetry and pursuing other women (not)... and the result was an unprecedented parable about the scientist who tries to play God and pays dearly for it. It should be noted that she relied on the scientific knowledge available at the time, based on Benjamin Franklin's experiments in lightning and Luigi Galvani's experiments in muscle stimulation with electricity (which apparently managed to revive a dead frog).

The book was filmed in too nanny versions to list here, especially if you include "the Son of", "the Dog of", "the Aunt of ", "the Bride of", "the grandmother of the Bride of," etc'. The latest version for now is by Kenneth Branagh, who tried to stay true to the spirit of the novel (including in the design of the monster, portrayed by Robert De Niro).

It should be emphasized again that Frankenstein was the name of the scientist, not the creature. The creature had no name.

See also: the Frankenstein Complex.

There are usually two kinds of "mad scientists" the one whose intentions are malicious from the outset and is utterly indifferent to the consequences of his actions, and the one who is supposedly motivated by the purest of intentions and wants to help humanity, but it can't be helped if it's just not working out for him.

In recent years there has been a significant change in the presentation of the scientist's image on film. He is no longer portrayed as a madman, but as a person with a background, a life and motives of his own, who happened to chose science as a career. The problem is that the cinematic medium is not exactly the best suited for presenting scientific work as it is conducted in real life, and therefore such a presentation is sometimes over-simplified, for two main reasons - scientific work is a lengthy and complex process, while in cinema the solution of scientific problem is usually achieved by breaking down a complex whole into small units, or combining small units into a complex whole; also, the scientist is usually a hot young blonde (which makes it unclear when she had the time to acquire all the training and education required for excellence in science).

It should also be noted that in Sci Fi, the lone mad scientist is being replaced by the faceless, multinational and cross-sectorial (military- industrial-entertainment or any combination thereof) corporation, driven by one goal only - profit. This is probably an expression of the ever-increasing concerns over globalization.

For more about corporations in Sci Fi click here.

a. The Rude Awakening

A scientist makes a discovery, accidentally or not. He tries to interest people in the discoverys applications, fails, is pissed off and decides to destroy the discovery/the ones who rejected him/ the entire world (delete as appropriate). He usually has a young, innocent and beautiful daughter/assistant who falls in love with the resident hero trying to stop the scientist or help him to the happy (or bitter) end.

b. The Savior of Humanity

A scientist makes a discovery, accidentally or not. He tries to interest people in the discoverys applications, they try to steal it away from him (usually in order to use it for nefarious purposes), he runs away and vows to share his discovery (which solve all the problems of the world and cure it of all ailments) with everyone and for free. He usually has a young, innocent and beautiful daughter/assistant who falls in love with the resident hero trying to stop the scientist or help him to the happy (or bitter) end.

d. The Island of Dr. Moreau
In what initially looks like a paradise (see Lost World), the generous host is gradually revealed to be a diabolical scientist. The innocent traveler who happened to be there tries to escape with the help of the scientists young, innocent and beautiful daughter/assistant, who decides to help him (after having second thoughts for exactly half a second).

5. (Not) Identical Twins: Twins Scenarios

The theme of loss is common in the mythology of twins.

Twinning (MZ and DZ twins) in the womb is more common than usually thought. Around one in eight pregnancies begin as twins, although only one out of every 80-90 births is of twins. Therefore, for every set of twins who are born alive, there are six singletons who are the sole survivors of a twin conception. Up to 15 per cent of the human population believe themselves to be a singleton, when they were in fact at one time a twin. This "vanishing twin" effect has been invoked to explain mysterious and undefinable cases involving the trauma of loss. Adults on being informed they had a stillborn twin, which they had previously not known about, for instance, have been relieved at identifying their deep and nagging feelings of loss.

A split within a week of fertilisation produces carbon copy twins, a split between one and two weeks can produce mirror image twins, while a split after two weeks may produce Siamese twins - two people sharing part of the same body. If one mirror image twin is right-handed, for example, the other twin will be left-handed.

Cinematic scenarios of this kind (not just in Sci Fi) are divided into three main categories:

a. Good Twin-Bad Twin

The evil twin tries to steal the good twin's life and identity (not to mention his girl), and the two are locked in a bitter struggle during which the boundaries of their identities become blurred, until in the end one of them dies, and we are left with a naggidoubt - is the one who died indeed the evil one, or the good?

b. Inseparable Twins

The twins live together in peace and harmony until they are torn apart by something (usually a woman) which they both desire.

6. The fine line between Mad and Genius: Dr. Mabuse


Fritz Lang


(Norbert Jacques)


Thea von Harbou


his final project









So what does the future of DNA and genetics hold for us?

Genetic intervention in food? Highly controversial.

Eradication of disease by intervention at the genetic level? We're on the way.

Eradication of hereditary/genetic diseases? A slightly more complicated matter.

The ability to choose not only the gender of the fetus, but any other desired quality? Partly available and still very controversial.

In Hollywood today there are already sperm banks offering donations of sperm by Nobel laureates and eggs by models (incidentally, why not the other way around?) This trend could lead to a social split on a genetic basis (rather than racial), but in practice, the discrimination will be financially based, since only the privileged will be able to benefit from the technology. Although the question is whether this too will become a passing fad, like everything in Hollywood...

Incidentally, in reality, some scientists were little more responsible than that. In the 30s, Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt describing the potential of the nuclear bomb. He was very concerned about this power, but he was even more concerned about the possibility that Nazi Germany will beat the U.S. to the technology. Roosevelt decided to initiate the establishment of the "Manhattan Project", in which most of the participating scientists were Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. When Einstein realized the disastrous practical applications of his theories of relativity, which he considered to be merely theoretical, he did not hesitate to voice his opinion. The result? Einstein was banned from the project; his pacifist views turned him into a security risk. The other participants were not even allowed to consult with him. Later on he said that if he had known the Germans had no chances of success in developing an atomic bomb, he would not have written the letter to the President. In his later years, when asked what weapons would be used in World War IV, he replied, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

Incidentally, that was also the reason why Einstein declined politely but firmly the invitation to become the first president of the emerging Jewish state, the State of Israel.

And yes, Einstein also had an innocent young (more or less) assistant... According to one version, when she came to him for a job interview, she told him, in full candor, that she does not know mathematics, and he replied, "That's okay, neither do I."


1. Historic chronology of DNA



Publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species 1859
Formulation of the Laws of Inheritance by Gregor Mendel 1865
The DNA (deoxyribose nucleic acid) molecule first discovered by Frederick Miescher, who initially called it nuclein 1869
Staining techniques developed which enable DNA to be observed in structures called chromosomes located in a cell's nucleus 1880
First artificial insemination of eggs (sea urchin) 1899
First animal cells grown outside organisms, in cell culture 1907
Genes shown to be arranged at specific locations along the chromosomes 1920
X-rays shown to artificially increase mutation rate of genes 1930
DNA confirmed as the molecule on which the genetic code resides 1940
First X-ray photograph of DNA 1950
First nuclear transplantation experiments (nucleus from undifferentiated cell into enucleated egg) on amphibians, laying the foundations for all future cloning work 1952
James Watson and Francis Crick describe the molecular structure of DNA. This leads to an understanding of how the genetic code leads tprotein synthesis 1953
Restriction enzymes developed to cut DNA at specific locations, followed by other enzymes that provide the tools for genetic engineering 1970
Synthesis of first molecules of recombinant DNA, that is DNA cgenetic material from another organism 1972
First genetic modification of a bacteria 1973
DNA testing first done for human genetic disease 1976
First sperm bank opening, to sell sperm of "intellectually superior" donors, including Nobel Prize winners 1977
Commercial genetic engineering begins. Manufacture of insulin using genetically modified (transgenic) bacteria in fermentation vats, followed by other human protein products 1978
Birth of Louise Brown, the first "test-tube baby" born through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) 1978
First transgenic mammal (mouse) born 1980
First complete DNA sequence of an organism (a virus) obtained 1982
PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technique developed for amplifying very small samples of DNA. Revolutionises genetic research in many areas 1983
First transgenic plant (tobacco) grown 1983
Mammals (sheep) firscloned by transferring nuclei from undifferentiated embryo cells 1984
Genetic fingerprinting techniques developed, a major advance in forensic science 1985
Human Genome Project set up, with aim of sequencing all the genes on the human genome 1988
First living animal patented, a transgenic mice, which is sold commercially 1988
Reported isolation of DNA from135-million-year-old insect that has been preserved in amber 1993
Genetically modified tomatoes first go on sale in USA 1993
Start of clinical trials using gene therapy to treat cystic fibrosis 1994
First large-scale plantings of transgenic crops (soybeans and maize) in the USA 1996
Birth of first mammal (Dolly the sheep) cloned using nucleus from differentiated adult cell 1996
Genetically modified food starting to be widely sold in Europe, although little of it labelled as such 1997
First complete genome obtained for a complex organism (nematode) 1998
Korean scientists claim to have cloned a human embryo from an adult human cell 1998
Human genome expected to have been sequenced 2002

2. DNA in Literature and Cinema
See: Stephen Nottingham, Screening DNA: Exploring the Cinema-Genetics Interface (1999)
3. For a Timeline of Science Fiction Inventions and links between Sci Fi and Technology click here.