Wednesday, February 7, 2018

This Is My Requisite Falcon Heavy Hot Take

Understandably, yesterday's Falcon Heavy launch -- which included a Tesla Roadster courtesy of engineer and round earth advocate Elon Musk -- was the talk of pretty much everything yesterday. Which, on the Internet, means that even if you don't like it or aren't talking about it, you're talking about it.

The majority of responses were of the Science Is Really Neat "boom-de-yada" category, while others were a little less positive. They don't like the demonstration of wealth. Because -- and I'm kind of agreeing with them here, I'm not being sarcastic -- nothing says "I'm rich as foretold" like shooting a Tesla playing "Space Oddity" into orbit around Mars as a publicity stunt.

Others found a middle ground: maybe they weren't a big fan of the demonstration, but what it means for the future of space exploration overall is a big enough positive that it outweighs any negative.

I don't believe anyone is necessarily right or wrong on this, because it's hard as hell to nail any sort of objectivity to something as bizarre as this. But I will, as I did with some friends earlier today, encourage you all to put a new spin on it when you think of it:

Our new "We live in the future" benchmark is "A dude shot a car into space to orbit around Mars while playing Bowie." Which blows my previous benchmark, "A robot got arrested for performance art," out of the water.

Allow me to explain.

It started, as all my favorite stories do, with a Swiss art group. Back in 2015, !Mediengruppe Bitnik programmed an AI to shop for random items on the Dark Web. The bot, named Random Darknet Shopper, was given $100 in Bitcoin every week and left to its own devices. Whatever it ordered showed up at the group's door unexpected, was photographed, and then went to a local museum as part of an art installation.

You probably already see where this is going.

For a while, things were fairly calm: the robot ordered knock-off jeans and sneakers, some ebooks, and lots and lots of soup. But then things got a little edgier, and the artists found themselves receiving shipments of ecstasy and forged Hungarian passports.

And the police got involved.

If you have ever felt weird about the shit you get up to, imagine going, "It's not us, officer, it's the computer program we send out onto the Dark Web. For art." Your college antics are likely tame by comparison.

That was three years ago, and for a long time I put that as a benchmark of Where We Are in our journey into the future. What I'd say if I got to travel back in time and tell someone what we're up to with the intent of blowing their mind. And honestly, yeah. It's wild.

But it is not as wild as the fact that someone just went and frickin shot a car into space.

Not only that, they miscalculated and that poor Roadster may end up in the asteroid belt.

Now, I'm talking like the only notable thing about the launch is the car. And obviously that's not the case. We're looking at a massive change to the way we execute and envision space travel and exploration. The mainstream is slowly waking up to the idea that Science Is Sexy, and we're seeing more and more innovations spread out into different areas and different hands.

But the biggest advance of all, which is one people rarely take into account when exploring advances in science and technology, is that people are now doing some really weird shit.

That's how you know something is real and essential and accessible. Without sarcasm or silliness, the inherent weirdness of the event is a turning point in and of itself. "Dude, some guy shot his car into space" is not a thing you can say until space travel is achievable, accessible, and normalized.

We've come a long way. So let's keep it weird.


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