How long did you want that space elevator cable?

Crossposted to the Lifeboat Foundation Blog

Many of you have recently read that a research team at the University of Illinois led by Min-Feng Yu has developed a process to grow nanowires of unlimited length. The same process also allows for the construction of complex, three-dimensional nanoscale structures. If this is news to you, please refer to the links below.

It’s easy to let this news item slip past before its implications have a chance to sink in.

Professor Yu and his team have shown us a glimpse of how to make nanowire based materials that will, once the technology is developed more fully, allow for at least two very significant enhancements in materials science.

1. Nanowires that will be as long as we want them to be. The only limitations that seem to be indicated are the size of the “ink” reservoir and the size of spool that the nanowires are wound on. Scale up the ink supply and the scale up size of the spool and we’ll soon be making cables and fabric. Make the cables long enough and braid enough of them them together and the Space Elevator Games may become even more exciting to watch.

2. It should also lend itself very nicely to 3D printing of complex nanoscale structures. Actually building components that will allow for the bootstrapping of a desktop sized molecular manufacturing fab seems like it’s a lot closer than it was just a short time ago.

All of this highlights the need to more richly fund the Lifeboat Foundation in general and the Lifeboat Foundation’s NanoShield program in particular so that truly transformative technologies like these can be brought to market in a way that minimizes the risks of their powers being used for ill.

If you can, please consider donating to the Lifeboat Foundation. Every dollar helps us to safely bring a better world into being. The species you help save may be your own.


Posted in Nanotechnology, Space Exploration | 1 Comment

“Vocal Terror” or Even Better Phishing Scams?

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Scientists warn of ‘vocal terror’

According to Dr. David Howard of the University of York, soon a computer will have the ability to sound exactly like someone we trust. Dr. Howard sees this as a potentially huge problem. He warns of a day, sometime around 2017, when an attacker compromises some large chunk of a nation’s emergency communications infrastructure and impersonates someone of high rank. Said attacker could then theoretically cause a great deal of harm by merely sounding like the previously mentioned high ranking official who then causes a panic of some sort or another.

When the computer that is perfectly matching your trusted person’s voice can also pass a Turing test while also looking exactly like someone we trust then I’ll agree that it’s a big problem.

But not in the ways Dr. Howard seems to be worried about. I’m not discounting Dr. Howard’s warning. I just think that the scope of the problem covered by his warning of “vocal terror” is both too small and entirely in the wrong place. Too small because I foresee this technology being abused by the same sorts of people who are currently defrauding people via phishing scams. Emails and websites that mimic the look & feel of communications from your real bank, the IRS, etc. are bad enough. Scams that exploit our intrinsic nature to trust our eyes and ears by utilizing nearly perfect emulations of people we trust will require some significant changes to our daily lives to defeat.

I can see the television commercial for the fraud prevention service now…

“Honestly honey, it looked and sounded just like you. If I even suspected that it was a member of organized crime out to ruin our lives, I would have never given out our most sensitive financial and personal data… ”

I’m going to bet that nearly every sort of everyday activity (phone calls, credit card transactions, emails, etc.) will be secured by digital certificates and cryptography. It seems the only practical way of dealing effectively with these sort of trust issues.

I just don’t look forward to the day when I have to explain to my then 70+ year old mother the nuances of PKI and crypto.

Matt McGuirl, CISSP

Posted in Business Issues, Cybersecurity | Leave a comment

SCADA (in)Security’s Going to Cost Us

When I read about the “Aurora Generator Test” video that has been leaked to the media I wondered “why leak it now now and who benefits.” Like many of you, I question the reasons behind any leak from an “unnamed source” inside the US Federal government to the media. Hopefully we’ll all benefit from this particular leak.

Then I thought back to a conversation I had at a trade show booth I was working in several years ago. I was speaking with a fellow from the power generation industry. He indicated that he was very worried about the security ramifications of a hardware refresh of the SCADA systems that his utility was using to control its power generation equipment. The legacy UNIX-based SCADA systems were going to be replaced by Windows based systems. He was even more very worried that the “air gaps” that historically have been used to physically separate the SCADA control networks from power company’s regular data networks might be removed to cut costs.

Thankfully on July 19, 2007 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proposed to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation a set of new, and much overdue, cyber security standards that will, once adopted and enforced do a lot to help make an attacker’s job a lot harder. Thank God, the people who operate the most critically important part of our national infrastructure have noticed the obvious.

Hopefully a little sunlight will help accelerate the process of reducing the attack surface of North America’s power grid.

After all, the march to the Singularity will go a lot slower without a reliable power grid.

Matt McGuirl, CISSP

Posted in Business Issues, Cybersecurity, National Security | Leave a comment

Do we really need another Singularity related blog?


Numerous blogs are doing good work by chronicling the Singularity-related news of the day. They’re meeting a critical need and we’re all in their debt.

I feel that there’s still a lot to be done to cobble the many factoids together into something that approaches a bigger, more useful picture.

Trying to make sense of it all is why we’re here.

Thanks for stopping by and please come back often. I promise to never waste your time or publish drivel.

Matt McGuirl

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment