I’m sitting in the far left corner of Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in New York, in a dark spot under the balcony, watching a man who is not a man.
On the brightly lit stage, the man sits comfortably in an Aeron desk chair, hair falling into his eyes as he gazes idly about the room through glasses, hands in lap. The emcee of the Global Future 2045 conference, Phil VanNedervelde, introduces him as Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of the Intelligence Robotics Laboratory in Osaka, Japan. He’s a leading expert in the creation of lifelike robots. As VanNedervelde steps off stage, the man looks around at the crowd and begins to speak.
"In order to investigate humans, we need to have a test bed. I am the test bed," he says. "The professor is using myself to study the Hiroshi likeness. I am the most important research he has out… Now, let’s welcome professor Ishiguro." With that, the professor himself strides onto the stage and the "man" in the chair is revealed as Ishiguro’s hyperrealistic robotic doppelgänger.
Wait 30 years, and the distinction between the “man” and the “machine” might not be so easy to make. If the conference organizer, Russian multimillionaire Dmitry Itskov, has his way, robots like Ishiguro’s will make us immortal—perhaps as soon as 2045. Random access memories: My time at a singularity conference
Imagine three astronauts, 125 million miles from the Earth, talking to Mission Control with a four-minute time lag. They have seen nothing out their windows but stars in the blackness of space for the last 150 days. With a carefully timed burn, they slow into orbit around Venus, and as they loop around the planet, they get their first look at its thick cloud layer just 7,000 miles below.
It might sound like the plot of a science fiction movie, but in the late 1960s, NASA investigated missions that would send humans to Venus and Mars using Apollo-era technology. These missions would fly in the 1970s and 1980s to capitalize on what many expected would be a surge of interest in manned spaceflight after the Apollo lunar landings. They would be daring missions, but they would also be feasible with what was on hand.
The Apollo applications program
NASA’s Apollo program hit a turning point in 1965. Roughly halfway between its inception and the end-of-decade lunar landing deadline, the program was both making headway and losing popular support. Money was desperately needed elsewhere, namely at home to deal with social issues and in Southeast Asia where the Vietnam War raged.
Worries over Apollo’s post-lunar-landing future led to the creation of the Apollo Applications Program. It was the agency’s attempt to preserve the team that brought Apollo to life and use their experience to develop new missions that would extend humanity’s reach into space. At the core of these missions would be scientific gain, not political need. These weren’t full mission proposals; instead, they were meant to show what NASA could do with the existing Apollo technology if it decided to.
The first vague goals of the program were to establish a manned orbiting laboratory and to send missions to the nearest planets using Apollo hardware—two goals that would give NASA reason to continue production of its Apollo-Saturn configurations. But these goals weren’t firm enough. NASA couldn’t continue building single-use Apollo spacecraft and Saturn V rockets without a concrete mission in the pipeline.
To find one, the agency turned to Bellcomm Inc., a division of AT&T established in March of 1962 to support the space agency by evaluating theoretical missions and performing independent analysis. It was Bellcomm that presented NASA with possible manned missions to Venus and Mars. Read the full story
This feature is excerpted, in slightly modified form, from the new book The Internet Police: How Crime Went Online, and the Cops Followed by Ars deputy editor Nate Anderson. It can currently be purchased as a hardback (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or local bookstores) or as an e-book (Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, or Google Play).
In the morning of September 10, 2008, US Postal Inspector Lori Heath had assembled a Baltimore team to raid the ramshackle Independence Street home of a suspected Internet child pornography kingpin. They got an early start; with help from local cops, Heath put the house under surveillance at 6:00am. By 8:30am, the full twelve-person group of postal inspectors, digital forensics specialists, and police officers was in position, but they couldn’t act—Heath was stalled down at the District Court, still waiting to get her search warrant signed. Without it, the raid was on hold.
The target was Roger Lee Loughry Sr., a fiftysomething mechanic with a high-school education, a handlebar mustache, and a love for motorcycles. Heath, in constant communication with her team back on Independence Street, wanted her warrant before Loughry got spooked by the surveillance. While she waited, Loughry stepped out into the morning air, unkempt hair hanging to his shoulders. To ensure he didn’t leave the property, the surveillance team broke from their vehicles and detained him next to his home.
At 9:00am, federal Magistrate Judge Beth Gesner signed off on the search warrant. Heath called her team immediately and they took Loughry back inside his home. Heath herself arrived shortly, crossed the dirt driveway, and let herself into the yard through the chain-link gate in the front fence.
The main source material for the piece was the hundreds of pages of transcripts detailing the trial of Roger Loughry in USA v. Savigar et al.—the Southern District of Indiana case used to prosecute most of The Cache defendants—along with other court documents and interviews with the lawyers involved. Full footnotes are available in the book.
The warrant team sat Loughry on a living room couch just to the right of the front door, then spent an hour and forty minutes combing the house. The vinyl-sided home was dilapidated; Heath’s inspectors went two steps down into the basement, but the stairs were so rickety that she worried someone might fall through. Most of the time was spent on the second floor where Loughry had his bedroom, a home office, and his computer. The agents were seeking information that could tie Loughry to an Internet message board called “The Cache,” a major site where members shared links to child pornography. The government had already penetrated the board’s security and so knew the online “handles” of its members. The site’s leader went by “DAS,” while Loughry was suspected to be a co-administrator named “Mayorroger.”
In addition to all the electronic evidence they collected, agents also discovered a scrap of paper with a cryptic address fragment scrawled in the lower right corner. Turning it over, they saw another notation: “Mr. D.A. Savigar, [house number redacted], Leyland, Preston, Lancashire, United Kingdom, PR251AH.” It was the address for one Delwyn A. Savigar—whose initials spelled out “DAS”—and who was at that moment being arrested by the Lancashire Constabulary. Convinced now that she had the right guy, Heath went downstairs to speak with Loughry.
Loughry was willing to talk without a lawyer present, and he freely admitted to using the Mayorroger screen name for all sorts of online accounts; he had chosen it in the wake of a failed 1999 bid for mayor of Baltimore. He then volunteered that he was an admin for a site called The Cache—before Heath had even mentioned the name. Loughry claimed the position was just an “honorary” one, however; what most interested him about the site was a simple arcade game called “Army Corps.” And what harm was there in that?
Heath had done her research, though; she pointed out that The Cache had actually dropped support for the game some time ago. She asked Loughry about child pornography on the site. He “figured” such material was being traded on the board, he said, but claimed that he had worked to stop its spread. “The only functions I performed there was I banned people for posting child pornography,” he wrote in a signed statement at the end of this interview. “I did click the links to see their posts and then banned them… My understanding of ‘The Cache’ was they had adult porn and games. I have since left the site.” He told Heath that viewing child pornography was a “sickness”—and unlike every other man swept up in Cache-related raids across the US, Loughry refused to plead guilty. He wanted his trial.
As a government lawyer would later put it, “We expect his essential defense in substance to be, I was only an administrator of an adult porn game board, ‘The Cache.’ I didn’t know. I didn’t intend to do any of the things that the other people are doing.” The government didn’t buy it. Would a jury? Read the full story
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