More on Science
5 months ago
Here's what to expect from NASA Artemis 1 and why it's significant.
NASA's Artemis 1 mission will help return people to the Moon after a half-century break. The mission is a shakedown cruise for NASA's Space Launch System and Orion Crew Capsule.
The spaceship will visit the Moon, deploy satellites, and enter orbit. NASA wants to practice operating the spacecraft, test the conditions people will face on the Moon, and ensure a safe return to Earth.
We asked Jack Burns, a space scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder and former member of NASA's Presidential Transition Team, to describe the mission, explain what the Artemis program promises for space exploration, and reflect on how the space program has changed in the half-century since humans last set foot on the moon.
What distinguishes Artemis 1 from other rockets?
Artemis 1 is the Space Launch System's first launch. NASA calls this a "heavy-lift" vehicle. It will be more powerful than Apollo's Saturn V, which transported people to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s.
It's a new sort of rocket system with two strap-on solid rocket boosters from the space shuttle. It's a mix of the shuttle and Saturn V.
The Orion Crew Capsule will be tested extensively. It'll spend a month in the high-radiation Moon environment. It will also test the heat shield, which protects the capsule and its occupants at 25,000 mph. The heat shield must work well because this is the fastest capsule descent since Apollo.
This mission will also carry miniature Moon-orbiting satellites. These will undertake vital precursor science, including as examining further into permanently shadowed craters where scientists suspect there is water and measuring the radiation environment to see long-term human consequences.
Artemis 1 will launch, fly to the Moon, place satellites, orbit it, return to Earth, and splash down in the ocean. NASA.
What's Artemis's goal? What launches are next?
The mission is a first step toward Artemis 3, which will lead to the first human Moon missions since 1972. Artemis 1 is unmanned.
Artemis 2 will have astronauts a few years later. Like Apollo 8, it will be an orbital mission that circles the Moon and returns. The astronauts will orbit the Moon longer and test everything with a crew.
Eventually, Artemis 3 will meet with the SpaceX Starship on the Moon's surface and transfer people. Orion will stay in orbit while the lunar Starship lands astronauts. They'll go to the Moon's south pole to investigate the water ice there.
Artemis is reminiscent of Apollo. What's changed in 50 years?
Kennedy wanted to beat the Soviets to the Moon with Apollo. The administration didn't care much about space flight or the Moon, but the goal would place America first in space and technology.
You live and die by the sword if you do that. When the U.S. reached the Moon, it was over. Russia lost. We planted flags and did science experiments. Richard Nixon canceled the program after Apollo 11 because the political goals were attained.
Large rocket with two boosters between two gates
NASA's new Space Launch System is brought to a launchpad. NASA
50 years later... It's quite different. We're not trying to beat the Russians, Chinese, or anyone else, but to begin sustainable space exploration.
Artemis has many goals. It includes harnessing in-situ resources like water ice and lunar soil to make food, fuel, and building materials.
SpaceX is part of this first journey to the Moon's surface, therefore the initiative is also helping to develop a lunar and space economy. NASA doesn't own the Starship but is buying seats for astronauts. SpaceX will employ Starship to transport cargo, private astronauts, and foreign astronauts.
Fifty years of technology advancement has made getting to the Moon cheaper and more practical, and computer technology allows for more advanced tests. 50 years of technological progress have changed everything. Anyone with enough money can send a spacecraft to the Moon, but not humans.
Commercial Lunar Payload Services engages commercial companies to develop uncrewed Moon landers. We're sending a radio telescope to the Moon in January. Even 10 years ago, that was impossible.
Since humans last visited the Moon 50 years ago, technology has improved greatly.
What other changes does Artemis have in store?
The government says Artemis 3 will have at least one woman and likely a person of color.
I'm looking forward to seeing more diversity so young kids can say, "Hey, there's an astronaut that looks like me. I can do this. I can be part of the space program.”
4 months ago
Twisted device investigates fusion alternatives
German stellarator revamped to run longer, hotter, compete with tokamaks
Tokamaks have dominated the search for fusion energy for decades. Just as ITER, the world's largest and most expensive tokamak, nears completion in southern France, a smaller, twistier testbed will start up in Germany.
If the 16-meter-wide stellarator can match or outperform similar-size tokamaks, fusion experts may rethink their future. Stellarators can keep their superhot gases stable enough to fuse nuclei and produce energy. They can theoretically run forever, but tokamaks must pause to reset their magnet coils.
The €1 billion German machine, Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X), is already getting "tokamak-like performance" in short runs, claims plasma physicist David Gates, preventing particles and heat from escaping the superhot gas. If W7-X can go long, "it will be ahead," he says. "Stellarators excel" Eindhoven University of Technology theorist Josefine Proll says, "Stellarators are back in the game." A few of startup companies, including one that Gates is leaving Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, are developing their own stellarators.
W7-X has been running at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Greifswald, Germany, since 2015, albeit only at low power and for brief runs. W7-X's developers took it down and replaced all inner walls and fittings with water-cooled equivalents, allowing for longer, hotter runs. The team reported at a W7-X board meeting last week that the revised plasma vessel has no leaks. It's expected to restart later this month to show if it can get plasma to fusion-igniting conditions.
Wendelstein 7-X's water-cooled inner surface allows for longer runs.
Both stellarators and tokamaks create magnetic gas cages hot enough to melt metal. Microwaves or particle beams heat. Extreme temperatures create a plasma, a seething mix of separated nuclei and electrons, and cause the nuclei to fuse, releasing energy. A fusion power plant would use deuterium and tritium, which react quickly. Non-energy-generating research machines like W7-X avoid tritium and use hydrogen or deuterium instead.
Tokamaks and stellarators use electromagnetic coils to create plasma-confining magnetic fields. A greater field near the hole causes plasma to drift to the reactor's wall.
Tokamaks control drift by circulating plasma around a ring. Streaming creates a magnetic field that twists and stabilizes ionized plasma. Stellarators employ magnetic coils to twist, not plasma. Once plasma physicists got powerful enough supercomputers, they could optimize stellarator magnets to improve plasma confinement.
W7-X is the first large, optimized stellarator with 50 6- ton superconducting coils. Its construction began in the mid-1990s and cost roughly twice the €550 million originally budgeted.
The wait hasn't disappointed researchers. W7-X director Thomas Klinger: "The machine operated immediately." "It's a friendly machine." It did everything we asked." Tokamaks are prone to "instabilities" (plasma bulging or wobbling) or strong "disruptions," sometimes associated to halted plasma flow. IPP theorist Sophia Henneberg believes stellarators don't employ plasma current, which "removes an entire branch" of instabilities.
In early stellarators, the magnetic field geometry drove slower particles to follow banana-shaped orbits until they collided with other particles and leaked energy. Gates believes W7-X's ability to suppress this effect implies its optimization works.
W7-X loses heat through different forms of turbulence, which push particles toward the wall. Theorists have only lately mastered simulating turbulence. W7-X's forthcoming campaign will test simulations and turbulence-fighting techniques.
A stellarator can run constantly, unlike a tokamak, which pulses. W7-X has run 100 seconds—long by tokamak standards—at low power. The device's uncooled microwave and particle heating systems only produced 11.5 megawatts. The update doubles heating power. High temperature, high plasma density, and extensive runs will test stellarators' fusion power potential. Klinger wants to heat ions to 50 million degrees Celsius for 100 seconds. That would make W7-X "a world-class machine," he argues. The team will push for 30 minutes. "We'll move step-by-step," he says.
W7-X's success has inspired VCs to finance entrepreneurs creating commercial stellarators. Startups must simplify magnet production.
Princeton Stellarators, created by Gates and colleagues this year, has $3 million to build a prototype reactor without W7-X's twisted magnet coils. Instead, it will use a mosaic of 1000 HTS square coils on the plasma vessel's outside. By adjusting each coil's magnetic field, operators can change the applied field's form. Gates: "It moves coil complexity to the control system." The company intends to construct a reactor that can fuse cheap, abundant deuterium to produce neutrons for radioisotopes. If successful, the company will build a reactor.
Renaissance Fusion, situated in Grenoble, France, raised €16 million and wants to coat plasma vessel segments in HTS. Using a laser, engineers will burn off superconductor tracks to carve magnet coils. They want to build a meter-long test segment in 2 years and a full prototype by 2027.
Type One Energy in Madison, Wisconsin, won DOE money to bend HTS cables for stellarator magnets. The business carved twisting grooves in metal with computer-controlled etching equipment to coil cables. David Anderson of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, claims advanced manufacturing technology enables the stellarator.
Anderson said W7-X's next phase will boost stellarator work. “Half-hour discharges are steady-state,” he says. “This is a big deal.”
9 months ago
Xenobots, tiny living machines, can duplicate themselves.
Strange and complex behavior of frog cell blobs
A xenobot “parent,” shaped like a hungry Pac-Man (shown in red false color), created an “offspring” xenobot (green sphere) by gathering loose frog cells in its opening.
Tiny “living machines” made of frog cells can make copies of themselves. This newly discovered renewal mechanism may help create self-renewing biological machines.
According to Kirstin Petersen, an electrical and computer engineer at Cornell University who studies groups of robots, “this is an extremely exciting breakthrough.” She says self-replicating robots are a big step toward human-free systems.
Researchers described the behavior of xenobots earlier this year (SN: 3/31/21). Small clumps of skin stem cells from frog embryos knitted themselves into small spheres and started moving. Cilia, or cellular extensions, powered the xenobots around their lab dishes.
The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Dec. 7. The xenobots can gather loose frog cells into spheres, which then form xenobots.
The researchers call this type of movement-induced reproduction kinematic self-replication. The study's coauthor, Douglas Blackiston of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, and Harvard University, says this is typical. For example, sexual reproduction requires parental sperm and egg cells. Sometimes cells split or budded off from a parent.
“This is unique,” Blackiston says. These xenobots “find loose parts in the environment and cobble them together.” This second generation of xenobots can move like their parents, Blackiston says.
The researchers discovered that spheroid xenobots could only produce one more generation before dying out. The original xenobots' shape was predicted by an artificial intelligence program, allowing for four generations of replication.
A C shape, like an openmouthed Pac-Man, was predicted to be a more efficient progenitor. When improved xenobots were let loose in a dish, they began scooping up loose cells into their gaping “mouths,” forming more sphere-shaped bots (see image below). As many as 50 cells clumped together in the opening of a parent to form a mobile offspring. A xenobot is made up of 4,000–6,000 frog cells.
Petersen likes the Xenobots' small size. “The fact that they were able to do this at such a small scale just makes it even better,” she says. Miniature xenobots could sculpt tissues for implantation or deliver therapeutics inside the body.
Beyond the xenobots' potential jobs, the research advances an important science, says study coauthor and Tufts developmental biologist Michael Levin. The science of anticipating and controlling the outcomes of complex systems, he says.
“No one could have predicted this,” Levin says. “They regularly surprise us.” Researchers can use xenobots to test the unexpected. “This is about advancing the science of being less surprised,” Levin says.
You might also like
7 months ago
Bernard Lawrence "Bernie" Madoff, the largest Ponzi scheme in history
Bernie Madoff ran the largest Ponzi scheme in history, defrauding thousands of investors over at least 17 years, and possibly longer. He pioneered electronic trading and chaired Nasdaq in the 1990s. On April 14, 2021, he died while serving a 150-year sentence for money laundering, securities fraud, and other crimes.
Madoff claimed to generate large, steady returns through a trading strategy called split-strike conversion, but he simply deposited client funds into a single bank account and paid out existing clients. He funded redemptions by attracting new investors and their capital, but the market crashed in late 2008. He confessed to his sons, who worked at his firm, on Dec. 10, 2008. Next day, they turned him in. The fund reported $64.8 billion in client assets.
Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 federal felony counts, including securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, perjury, and money laundering. Ponzi scheme became a symbol of Wall Street's greed and dishonesty before the financial crisis. Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $170 billion, but no other Wall Street figures faced legal ramifications.
Bernie Madoff's Brief Biography
Bernie Madoff was born in Queens, New York, on April 29, 1938. He began dating Ruth (née Alpern) when they were teenagers. Madoff told a journalist by phone from prison that his father's sporting goods store went bankrupt during the Korean War: "You watch your father, who you idolize, build a big business and then lose everything." Madoff was determined to achieve "lasting success" like his father "whatever it took," but his career had ups and downs.
Early Madoff investments
At 22, he started Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC. First, he traded penny stocks with $5,000 he earned installing sprinklers and as a lifeguard. Family and friends soon invested with him. Madoff's bets soured after the "Kennedy Slide" in 1962, and his father-in-law had to bail him out.
Madoff felt he wasn't part of the Wall Street in-crowd. "We weren't NYSE members," he told Fishman. "It's obvious." According to Madoff, he was a scrappy market maker. "I was happy to take the crumbs," he told Fishman, citing a client who wanted to sell eight bonds; a bigger firm would turn it down.
Success came when he and his brother Peter built electronic trading capabilities, or "artificial intelligence," that attracted massive order flow and provided market insights. "I had all these major banks coming down, entertaining me," Madoff told Fishman. "It was mind-bending."
By the late 1980s, he and four other Wall Street mainstays processed half of the NYSE's order flow. Controversially, he paid for much of it, and by the late 1980s, Madoff was making in the vicinity of $100 million a year. He was Nasdaq chairman from 1990 to 1993.
Madoff's Ponzi scheme
It is not certain exactly when Madoff's Ponzi scheme began. He testified in court that it began in 1991, but his account manager, Frank DiPascali, had been at the firm since 1975.
Why Madoff did the scheme is unclear. "I had enough money to support my family's lifestyle. "I don't know why," he told Fishman." Madoff could have won Wall Street's respect as a market maker and electronic trading pioneer.
Madoff told Fishman he wasn't solely responsible for the fraud. "I let myself be talked into something, and that's my fault," he said, without saying who convinced him. "I thought I could escape eventually. I thought it'd be quick, but I couldn't."
Carl Shapiro, Jeffry Picower, Stanley Chais, and Norm Levy have been linked to Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC for years. Madoff's scheme made these men hundreds of millions of dollars in the 1960s and 1970s.
Madoff told Fishman, "Everyone was greedy, everyone wanted to go on." He says the Big Four and others who pumped client funds to him, outsourcing their asset management, must have suspected his returns or should have. "How can you make 15%-18% when everyone else is making less?" said Madoff.
How Madoff Got Away with It for So Long
Madoff's high returns made clients look the other way. He deposited their money in a Chase Manhattan Bank account, which merged to become JPMorgan Chase & Co. in 2000. The bank may have made $483 million from those deposits, so it didn't investigate.
When clients redeemed their investments, Madoff funded the payouts with new capital he attracted by promising unbelievable returns and earning his victims' trust. Madoff created an image of exclusivity by turning away clients. This model let half of Madoff's investors profit. These investors must pay into a victims' fund for defrauded investors.
Madoff wooed investors with his philanthropy. He defrauded nonprofits, including the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Peace and Hadassah. He approached congregants through his friendship with J. Ezra Merkin, a synagogue officer. Madoff allegedly stole $1 billion to $2 billion from his investors.
Investors believed Madoff for several reasons:
- His public portfolio seemed to be blue-chip stocks.
- His returns were high (10-20%) but consistent and not outlandish. In a 1992 interview with Madoff, the Wall Street Journal reported: "[Madoff] insists the returns were nothing special, given that the S&P 500-stock index returned 16.3% annually from 1982 to 1992. 'I'd be surprised if anyone thought matching the S&P over 10 years was remarkable,' he says.
- "He said he was using a split-strike collar strategy. A collar protects underlying shares by purchasing an out-of-the-money put option.
The Securities and Exchange Commission had been investigating Madoff and his securities firm since 1999, which frustrated many after he was prosecuted because they felt the biggest damage could have been prevented if the initial investigations had been rigorous enough.
Harry Markopolos was a whistleblower. In 1999, he figured Madoff must be lying in an afternoon. The SEC ignored his first Madoff complaint in 2000.
Markopolos wrote to the SEC in 2005: "The largest Ponzi scheme is Madoff Securities. This case has no SEC reward, so I'm turning it in because it's the right thing to do."
Many believed the SEC's initial investigations could have prevented Madoff's worst damage.
Markopolos found irregularities using a "Mosaic Method." Madoff's firm claimed to be profitable even when the S&P fell, which made no mathematical sense given what he was investing in. Markopolos said Madoff Securities' "undisclosed commissions" were the biggest red flag (1 percent of the total plus 20 percent of the profits).
Markopolos concluded that "investors don't know Bernie Madoff manages their money." Markopolos learned Madoff was applying for large loans from European banks (seemingly unnecessary if Madoff's returns were high).
The regulator asked Madoff for trading account documentation in 2005, after he nearly went bankrupt due to redemptions. The SEC drafted letters to two of the firms on his six-page list but didn't send them. Diana Henriques, author of "The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust," documents the episode.
In 2008, the SEC was criticized for its slow response to Madoff's fraud.
Confession, sentencing of Bernie Madoff
Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC reported 5.6% year-to-date returns in November 2008; the S&P 500 fell 39%. As the selling continued, Madoff couldn't keep up with redemption requests, and on Dec. 10, he confessed to his sons Mark and Andy, who worked at his firm. "After I told them, they left, went to a lawyer, who told them to turn in their father, and I never saw them again. 2008-12-11: Bernie Madoff arrested.
Madoff insists he acted alone, but several of his colleagues were jailed. Mark Madoff died two years after his father's fraud was exposed. Madoff's investors committed suicide. Andy Madoff died of cancer in 2014.
2009 saw Madoff's 150-year prison sentence and $170 billion forfeiture. Marshals sold his three homes and yacht. Prisoner 61727-054 at Butner Federal Correctional Institution in North Carolina.
Madoff's lawyers requested early release on February 5, 2020, claiming he has a terminal kidney disease that may kill him in 18 months. Ten years have passed since Madoff's sentencing.
Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme aftermath
The paper trail of victims' claims shows Madoff's complexity and size. Documents show Madoff's scam began in the 1960s. His final account statements show $47 billion in "profit" from fake trades and shady accounting.
Thousands of investors lost their life savings, and multiple stories detail their harrowing loss.
Irving Picard, a New York lawyer overseeing Madoff's bankruptcy, has helped investors. By December 2018, Picard had recovered $13.3 billion from Ponzi scheme profiteers.
A Madoff Victim Fund (MVF) was created in 2013 to help compensate Madoff's victims, but the DOJ didn't start paying out the $4 billion until late 2017. Richard Breeden, a former SEC chair who oversees the fund, said thousands of claims were from "indirect investors"
Breeden and his team had to reject many claims because they weren't direct victims. Breeden said he based most of his decisions on one simple rule: Did the person invest more than they withdrew? Breeden estimated 11,000 "feeder" investors.
Breeden wrote in a November 2018 update for the Madoff Victim Fund, "We've paid over 27,300 victims 56.65% of their losses, with thousands more to come." In December 2018, 37,011 Madoff victims in the U.S. and around the world received over $2.7 billion. Breeden said the fund expected to make "at least one more significant distribution in 2019"
This post is a summary. Read full article here
6 months ago
Metaverse, Web 3, and NFTs are BS
Most crypto is probably too.
The goals of Web 3 and the metaverse are admirable and attractive. Who doesn't want an internet owned by users? Who wouldn't want a digital realm where anything is possible? A better way to collaborate and visit pals.
Companies pursue profits endlessly. Infinite growth and revenue are expected, and if a corporation needs to sacrifice profits to safeguard users, the CEO, board of directors, and any executives will lose to the system of incentives that (1) retains workers with shares and (2) makes a company answerable to all of its shareholders. Only the government can guarantee user protections, but we know how successful that is. This is nothing new, just a problem with modern capitalism and tech platforms that a user-owned internet might remedy. Moxie, the founder of Signal, has a good articulation of some of these current Web 2 tech platform problems (but I forget the timestamp); thoughts on JRE aside, this episode is worth listening to (it’s about a bunch of other stuff too).
Moxie Marlinspike, founder of Signal, on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast.
Web 3 champions are premature. There was so much spectacular growth during Web 2 that the next wave of founders want to make an even bigger impact, while investors old and new want a chance to get a piece of the moonshot action. Worse, crypto enthusiasts believe — and financially need — the fact of its success to be true, whether or not it is.
I’m doubtful that it will play out like current proponents say. Crypto has been the white-hot focus of SV’s best and brightest for a long time yet still struggles to come up any mainstream use case other than ‘buy, HODL, and believe’: a store of value for your financial goals and wishes. Some kind of the metaverse is likely, but will it be decentralized, mostly in VR, or will Meta (previously FB) play a big role? Unlikely.
The metaverse exists already. Our digital lives span apps, platforms, and games. I can design a 3D house, invite people, use Discord, and hang around in an artificial environment. Millions of gamers do this in Rust, Minecraft, Valheim, and Animal Crossing, among other games. Discord's voice chat and Slack-like servers/channels are the present social anchor, but the interface, integrations, and data portability will improve. Soon you can stream YouTube videos on digital house walls. You can doodle, create art, play Jackbox, and walk through a door to play Apex Legends, Fortnite, etc. Not just gaming. Digital whiteboards and screen sharing enable real-time collaboration. They’ll review code and operate enterprises. Music is played and made. In digital living rooms, they'll watch movies, sports, comedy, and Twitch. They'll tweet, laugh, learn, and shittalk.
The metaverse is the evolution of our digital life at home, the third place. The closest analog would be Discord and the integration of Facebook, Slack, YouTube, etc. into a single, 3D, customizable hangout space.
I'm not certain this experience can be hugely decentralized and smoothly choreographed, managed, and run, or that VR — a luxury, cumbersome, and questionably relevant technology — must be part of it. Eventually, VR will be pragmatic, achievable, and superior to real life in many ways. A total sensory experience like the Matrix or Sword Art Online, where we're physically hooked into the Internet yet in our imaginations we're jumping, flying, and achieving athletic feats we never could in reality; exploring realms far grander than our own (as grand as it is). That VR is different from today's.
Ben Thompson released an episode of Exponent after Facebook changed its name to Meta. Ben was suspicious about many metaverse champion claims, but he made a good analogy between Oculus and the PC. The PC was initially far too pricey for the ordinary family to afford. It began as a business tool. It got so powerful and pervasive that it affected our personal life. Price continues to plummet and so much consumer software was produced that it's impossible to envision life without a home computer (or in our pockets). If Facebook shows product market fit with VR in business, through use cases like remote work and collaboration, maybe VR will become practical in our personal lives at home.
Before PCs, we relied on Blockbuster, the Yellow Pages, cabs to get to the airport, handwritten taxes, landline phones to schedule social events, and other archaic methods. It is impossible for me to conceive what VR, in the form of headsets and hand controllers, stands to give both professional and especially personal digital experiences that is an order of magnitude better than what we have today. Is looking around better than using a mouse to examine a 3D landscape? Do the hand controls make x10 or x100 work or gaming more fun or efficient? Will VR replace scalable Web 2 methods and applications like Web 1 and Web 2 did for analog? I don't know.
My guess is that the metaverse will arrive slowly, initially on displays we presently use, with more app interoperability. I doubt that it will be controlled by the people or by Facebook, a corporation that struggles to properly innovate internally, as practically every large digital company does. Large tech organizations are lousy at hiring product-savvy employees, and if they do, they rarely let them explore new things.
These companies act like business schools when they seek founders' results, with bureaucracy and dependency. Which company launched the last popular consumer software product that wasn't a clone or acquisition? Recent examples are scarce.
Investors and entrepreneurs of Web 3 firms are declaring victory: 'Web 3 is here!' Web 3 is the future! Many profitable Web 2 enterprises existed when Web 2 was defined. The word was created to explain user behavior shifts, not a personal pipe dream.
Origins of Web 2: http://www.oreilly.com/pub/a/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html
One of these Web 3 startups may provide the connecting tissue to link all these experiences or become one of the major new digital locations. Even so, successful players will likely use centralized power arrangements, as Web 2 businesses do now. Some Web 2 startups integrated our digital lives. Rockmelt (2010–2013) was a customizable browser with bespoke connectors to every program a user wanted; imagine seeing Facebook, Twitter, Discord, Netflix, YouTube, etc. all in one location. Failure. Who knows what Opera's doing?
Silicon Valley and tech Twitter in general have a history of jumping on dumb bandwagons that go nowhere. Dot-com crash in 2000? The huge deployment of capital into bad ideas and businesses is well-documented. And live video. It was the future until it became a niche sector for gamers. Live audio will play out a similar reality as CEOs with little comprehension of audio and no awareness of lasting new user behavior deceive each other into making more and bigger investments on fool's gold. Twitter trying to buy Clubhouse for $4B, Spotify buying Greenroom, Facebook exploring live audio and 'Tiktok for audio,' and now Amazon developing a live audio platform. This live audio frenzy won't be worth their time or energy. Blind guides blind. Instead of learning from prior failures like Twitter buying Periscope for $100M pre-launch and pre-product market fit, they're betting on unproven and uncompelling experiences.
NFTs are also nonsense. Take Loot, a time-limited bag drop of "things" (text on the blockchain) for a game that didn't exist, bought by rich techies too busy to play video games and foolish enough to think they're getting in early on something with a big reward. What gaming studio is incentivized to use these items? Who's encouraged to join? No one cares besides Loot owners who don't have NFTs. Skill, merit, and effort should be rewarded with rare things for gamers. Even if a small minority of gamers can make a living playing, the average game's major appeal has never been to make actual money - that's a profession.
No game stays popular forever, so how is this objective sustainable? Once popularity and usage drop, exclusive crypto or NFTs will fall. And if NFTs are designed to have cross-game appeal, incentives apart, 30 years from now any new game will need millions of pre-existing objects to build around before they start. It doesn’t work.
Many games already feature item economies based on real in-game scarcity, generally for cosmetic things to avoid pay-to-win, which undermines scaled gaming incentives for huge player bases. Counter-Strike, Rust, etc. may be bought and sold on Steam with real money. Since the 1990s, unofficial cross-game marketplaces have sold in-game objects and currencies. NFTs aren't needed. Making a popular, enjoyable, durable game is already difficult.
With NFTs, certain JPEGs on the internet went from useless to selling for $69 million. Why? Crypto, Web 3, early Internet collectibles. NFTs are digital Beanie Babies (unlike NFTs, Beanie Babies were a popular children's toy; their destinies are the same). NFTs are worthless and scarce. They appeal to crypto enthusiasts seeking for a practical use case to support their theory and boost their own fortune. They also attract to SV insiders desperate not to miss the next big thing, not knowing what it will be. NFTs aren't about paying artists and creators who don't get credit for their work.
South Park's Underpants Gnomes
NFTs are a benign, foolish plan to earn money on par with South Park's underpants gnomes. At worst, they're the world of hucksterism and poor performers. Or those with money and enormous followings who, like everyone, don't completely grasp cryptocurrencies but are motivated by greed and status and believe Gary Vee's claim that CryptoPunks are the next Facebook. Gary's watertight logic: if NFT prices dip, they're on the same path as the most successful corporation in human history; buy the dip! NFTs aren't businesses or museum-worthy art. They're bs.
Gary Vee compares NFTs to Amazon.com. vm.tiktok.com/TTPdA9TyH2
We grew up collecting: Magic: The Gathering (MTG) cards printed in the 90s are now worth over $30,000. Imagine buying a digital Magic card with no underlying foundation. No one plays the game because it doesn't exist. An NFT is a contextless image someone conned you into buying a certificate for, but anyone may copy, paste, and use. Replace MTG with Pokemon for younger readers.
When Gary Vee strongarms 30 tech billionaires and YouTube influencers into buying CryptoPunks, they'll talk about it on Twitch, YouTube, podcasts, Twitter, etc. That will convince average folks that the product has value. These guys are smart and/or rich, so I'll get in early like them. Cryptography is similar. No solid, scaled, mainstream use case exists, and no one knows where it's headed, but since the global crypto financial bubble hasn't burst and many people have made insane fortunes, regular people are putting real money into something that is highly speculative and could be nothing because they want a piece of the action. Who doesn’t want free money? Rich techies and influencers won't be affected; normal folks will.
Imagine removing every $1 invested in Bitcoin instantly. What would happen? How far would Bitcoin fall? Over 90%, maybe even 95%, and Bitcoin would be dead. Bitcoin as an investment is the only scalable widespread use case: it's confidence that a better use case will arise and that being early pays handsomely. It's like pouring a trillion dollars into a company with no business strategy or users and a CEO who makes vague future references.
New tech and efforts may provoke a 'get off my lawn' mentality as you approach 40, but I've always prided myself on having a decent bullshit detector, and it's flying off the handle at this foolishness. If we can accomplish a functional, responsible, equitable, and ethical user-owned internet, I'm for it.
I wanted to summarize my opinions because I've been angry about this for a while but just sporadically tweeted about it. A friend handed me a Dan Olson YouTube video just before publication. He's more knowledgeable, articulate, and convincing about crypto. It's worth seeing:
This post is a summary. See the original one here.
1 year ago
A Warm Welcome to Web3 and the Future of the Internet
Let's take a look back at the internet's history and see where we're going — and why.
Tim Berners Lee had a problem. He was at CERN, the world's largest particle physics factory, at the time. The institute's stated goal was to study the simplest particles with the most sophisticated scientific instruments. The institute completed the LEP Tunnel in 1988, a 27 kilometer ring. This was Europe's largest civil engineering project (to study smaller particles — electrons).
The problem Tim Berners Lee found was information loss, not particle physics. CERN employed a thousand people in 1989. Due to team size and complexity, people often struggled to recall past project information. While these obstacles could be overcome, high turnover was nearly impossible. Berners Lee addressed the issue in a proposal titled ‘Information Management'.
When a typical stay is two years, data is constantly lost. The introduction of new people takes a lot of time from them and others before they understand what is going on. An emergency situation may require a detective investigation to recover technical details of past projects. Often, the data is recorded but cannot be found. — Information Management: A Proposal
He had an idea. Create an information management system that allowed users to access data in a decentralized manner using a new technology called ‘hypertext'.
To quote Berners Lee, his proposal was “vague but exciting...”. The paper eventually evolved into the internet we know today. Here are three popular W3C standards used by billions of people today:
HTML (Hypertext Markup)
A web formatting language.
URI (Unique Resource Identifier)
Each web resource has its own “address”. Known as ‘a URL'.
HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol)
Retrieves linked resources from across the web.
These technologies underpin all computer work. They were the seeds of our quest to reorganize information, a task as fruitful as particle physics.
Tim Berners-Lee would probably think the three decades from 1989 to 2018 were eventful. He'd be amazed by the billions, the inspiring, the novel. Unlocking innovation at CERN through ‘Information Management'.
The fictional character would probably need a drink, walk, and a few deep breaths to fully grasp the internet's impact. He'd be surprised to see a few big names in the mix.
Then he'd say, "Something's wrong here."
We should review the web's history before going there. Was it a success after Berners Lee made it public? Web1 and Web2: What is it about what we are doing now that so many believe we need a new one, web3?
Per Outlier Ventures' Jamie Burke:
Web 1.0 was read-only.
Web 2.0 was the writable
Web 3.0 is a direct-write web.
Web1: The Read-Only Web
Web1 was the digital age. We put our books, research, and lives ‘online'. The web made information retrieval easier than any filing cabinet ever. Massive amounts of data were stored online. Encyclopedias, medical records, and entire libraries were put away into floppy disks and hard drives.
In 2015, the web had around 305,500,000,000 pages of content (280 million copies of Atlas Shrugged).
Initially, one didn't expect to contribute much to this database. Web1 was an online version of the real world, but not yet a new way of using the invention.
One gets the impression that the web has been underutilized by historians if all we can say about it is that it has become a giant global fax machine. — Daniel Cohen, The Web's Second Decade (2004)
That doesn't mean developers weren't building. The web was being advanced by great minds. Web2 was born as technology advanced.
Web2: Read-Write Web
Remember when you clicked something on a website and the whole page refreshed? Is it too early to call the mid-2000s ‘the good old days'?
Browsers improved gradually, then suddenly. AJAX calls augmented CGI scripts, and applications began sending data back and forth without disrupting the entire web page. One button to ‘digg' a post (see below). Web experiences blossomed.
In 2006, Digg was the most active ‘Web 2.0' site. (Photo: Ethereum Foundation Taylor Gerring)
Interaction was the focus of new applications. Posting, upvoting, hearting, pinning, tweeting, liking, commenting, and clapping became a lexicon of their own. It exploded in 2004. Easy ways to ‘write' on the internet grew, and continue to grow.
Facebook became a Web2 icon, where users created trillions of rows of data. Google and Amazon moved from Web1 to Web2 by better understanding users and building products and services that met their needs.
Business models based on Software-as-a-Service and then managing consumer data within them for a fee have exploded.
Web2 Emerging Issues
Unbelievably, an intriguing dilemma arose. When creating this read-write web, a non-trivial question skirted underneath the covers. Who owns it all?
You have no control over [Web 2] online SaaS. People didn't realize this because SaaS was so new. People have realized this is the real issue in recent years.
Even if these organizations have good intentions, their incentive is not on the users' side.
“You are not their customer, therefore you are their product,” they say. With Laura Shin, Vitalik Buterin, Unchained
A good plot line emerges. Many amazing, world-changing software products quietly lost users' data control.
For example: Facebook owns much of your social graph data. Even if you hate Facebook, you can't leave without giving up that data. There is no ‘export' or ‘exit'. The platform owns ownership.
While many companies can pull data on you, you cannot do so.
On the surface, this isn't an issue. These companies use my data better than I do! A complex group of stakeholders, each with their own goals. One is maximizing shareholder value for public companies. Tim Berners-Lee (and others) dislike the incentives created.
“Show me the incentive and I will show you the outcome.” — Berkshire Hathaway's CEO
It's easy to see what the read-write web has allowed in retrospect. We've been given the keys to create content instead of just consume it. On Facebook and Twitter, anyone with a laptop and internet can participate. But the engagement isn't ours. Platforms own themselves.
Web3: The ‘Unmediated’ Read-Write Web
Tim Berners Lee proposed a decade ago that ‘linked data' could solve the internet's data problem.
However, until recently, the same principles that allowed the Web of documents to thrive were not applied to data...
The Web of Data also allows for new domain-specific applications. Unlike Web 2.0 mashups, Linked Data applications work with an unbound global data space. As new data sources appear on the Web, they can provide more complete answers.
At around the same time as linked data research began, Satoshi Nakamoto created Bitcoin. After ten years, it appears that Berners Lee's ideas ‘link' spiritually with cryptocurrencies.
What should Web 3 do?
Here are some quick predictions for the web's future.
Users own information and provide it to corporations, businesses, or services that will benefit them.
No government, company, or institution should control your access to information (1, 2, 3)
Connect users and platforms:
Create symbiotic rather than competitive relationships between users and platform creators.
“First, the cryptonetwork-participant contract is enforced in open source code. Their voices and exits are used to keep them in check.” Dixon, Chris (4)
Transacting value, information, or assets with anyone with internet access, anywhere, at low cost
Giving you the ability to own, see, and understand your entire digital identity.
Not pull, push:
‘Push' your data to trusted sources instead of ‘pulling' it from others.
Where Does This Leave Us?
Change incentives, change the world. Nick Babalola
People believe web3 can help build a better, fairer system. This is not the same as equal pay or outcomes, but more equal opportunity.
It should be noted that some of these advantages have been discussed previously. Will the changes work? Will they make a difference? These unanswered questions are technical, economic, political, and philosophical. Unintended consequences are likely.
We hope Web3 is a more democratic web. And we think incentives help the user. If there’s one thing that’s on our side, it’s that open has always beaten closed, given a long enough timescale.
We are at the start.