Neal Stephenson Thinks Rockets are an Overhyped Technology

Every Friday Politico interviews someone about "The Future in Five Questions". This week they interviewed Neal Stephenson (who they describe as "the sci-fi author who coined the term 'metaverse' and now a Web3 entrepreneur in his own right.") Stephenson began by sharing his thoughts on a big idea that's underrated. Neal Stephenson: Desalination. It's an incredibly obvious, kind of simple process. Nothing is more basic than having water to drink, so it's kind of hiding in plain sight, but coupled with cheap energy from photovoltaics it's going to make big changes in the world. When you look at how much water, or a lack thereof, has shaped where people live and how people make food, the notion that we might be able to engineer ways to get fresh water in a new way could be revolutionary. What's a technology you think is overhyped? Stephenson: I'm going to go with an oldie: rockets. It's just a historical accident that chemical rockets became our only way of putting stuff into space, and if we had started at a different time we would have ended up doing something that works better. One alternative would be beaming energy from the ground to vehicles, using lasers or microwaves. That seems like a doable project right now. There's nuclear propulsion, which I think is probably never going to happen at scale, because it's politically impossible, but even something as simple as constructing a very tall building or a tall tower and using that as a launch platform, or as a way to accelerate things up upward, could really change the economics of spaceflight. Stephenson also says the book that most shaped his conception of the future was Robert Heinlein's 1958 novel Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. And the biggest surprise of 2022 was Ukraine's strong response after Russia's invasion. "Most people who are paying attention have understood that drones and other new technologies are going to change the way wars get fought, but we're seeing it unfold and mutate in real time in Ukraine. "These guys are taking old Cold War grenades and disassembling them, and putting on homemade fuses and attaching 3D printed fins and dropping them out of consumer-grade drones, to a significant effect on the battlefield...." In 2004 Neal Stephenson answered questions from Slashdot's readers.

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Will Google’s ‘Cross-Device’ Development Kit Bring Android Apps to Non-Android Devices?

Google is trying "to make it easier for developers to create Android apps that connect in some way across a range of devices," reports the Verge. Documentation for the software development kit says it will simplify development for "multi-device experiences." "The Cross device SDK is open-source and will be available for different Android surfaces and non-Android ecosystem devices (Chrome OS, Windows, iOS)," explains the documentation, though the current developer preview only works with Android phones and tablets, according to the Verge. But they report that Google's new SDK "contains the tools developers need to make their apps play nice across Android devices, and, eventually non-Android phones, tablets, TVs, cars, and more." The SDK is supposed to let developers do three key things with their apps: discover nearby devices, establish secure connections between devices, and host an app's experience across multiple devices. According to Google, its cross-device SDK uses Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and ultra-wideband to deliver multi-device connectivity.... [I]t could let multiple users on separate devices choose items from a menu when creating a group food order, saving you from passing your phone around the room. It could also let you pick up where you left off in an article when swapping from your phone to a tablet, or even allow the passengers in a car to share a specific map location with the vehicle's navigation system. It almost sounds like an expansion of Nearby Share, which enables users on Android to transfer files to devices that use Chrome OS and other Androids. In April, Esper's Mishaal Rahman spotted an upcoming Nearby Share update that could let you quickly share files across the devices that you're signed into Google with. Google also said during a CES 2022 keynote that it will bring Nearby Share to Windows devices later this year. "This SDK abstracts away the intricacies involved with working with device discovery, authentication, and connection protocols," argues Google's blog post, "allowing you to focus on what matters most — building delightful user experiences and connecting these experiences across a variety of form factors and platforms."

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