a blog of data, dystopia and despair

  • Vague Prediction #1: Extraterrestrial Life

    I think predictions are rubbish for the very short term. Whether trying to call elections before they happen, how political tides turn or even how much it will rain, the future can be a violatile venture to bet on.

    But we can make vague, more longterm predictions with greater success. Broadening the expectations and removing the pressure of absolute precision can turn anyone into a thinksational prophet. Just ask Nostradamus.

    To say I make predictions is kind of a misnomer. It’s more like an educated guess based on current trends that’s by no means empirical.

    One of those little future thoughts is that within the next 20 years we’ll have positively identified evidence of extraterrestrial life.

    I don’t know where, what form it will take, whether it will be a lifeform, a fossil or some gaseous particle trace that can only be explained by the presence of a non-terran creature. But within the next couple decades, we will know for absolute certain that life formed somewhere beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

    While there are exciting exoplanetary targets1 for the hunt, odds are we’ll find something either on Mars2 or the oceanic moons of Europa or Enceladus3 well before we discover evidence beyond our own solar system.

    There seems to be a lesser chance of picking up an unmistakeably alien signal4, but it’s not completely impossible. Neither is First Contact for that matter, though the odds seem remote nonetheless.

    Regardless of the details, the search is ongoing in earnest and it shouldn’t take more than 20 years to produce results. It could be far, far less.

    This probably isn’t a very risky prediction. SETI has predicted finding intelligent extraterrestrials by 20405, putting this 20-year prediction within the same ballpark. This prediction has the added advantage of not needing the life to be intelligent. Any moving sludge or microbe that we can label with a fancy name will do.

    Whether there’s any other life out there depends upon which side of the Fermi Paradox’s Great Filter6 one thinks we’re on. But the odds are extremely tiny that we’re alone. There could be 100,000 or more intelligent civilizations just in the Milky Way, according to maths, and that doesn’t account for all the non-intelligent stuff like space ferns and space bugs. It’s just a matter of finding them.

    The implications for such a discovery would be vast for Earth’s cultures as a whole, unmooring public consciousness from intellectual institutions built upon the assumption of a human-centered universe.

    And aliens in whatever form are probably at least just a little bit cool.

    1. Drake, Nadia. “New Super-Earth May Be Best Yet for Finding Signs of Life” National Geographic. April 19, 2017. Link 

    2. NASA. “Mars Exploration” Link 

    3. Strickland, Ashley. “New Super-Earth May Be Best Yet for Finding Signs of Life” CNN. April 14, 2017. Link 

    4. Strickland, Ashley. “Mysterious Star Pulses May Be Alien Signals, Study Claims” Space.com. October 28, 2016. Link 

    5. Wall, Mike. “Bold Prediction: Intelligent Alien Life Could Be Found by 2040” Space.com. February 10, 2014. Link 

    6. Urban, Tim. “The Fermi Paradox” Wait But Why. May 21, 2014. Link 

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  • March for [REDACTED]

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  • Oops

    Some people – including many in news orgs – have been blitzed by a sophisticated phishing attack today1 in what I can only assume is a vicious attack on people who don’t know how to use email or Google Docs in 2017.

    Luckily, I didn’t click the link.

    But I did manage to bork my machine and force myself to install the OSX 10.12.4 Sierra install twice in 2.5 hours.

    Also now Siri has entered my life for the first time ever, meaning the end has truly begun.

    This was all to install SourceTree in my continued quest to adopt tools at least somewhat in step with the development norms of the era. I guess lapsing on OSX updates for a couple years is enough to leave me creaking by in the Dark Ages.

    Siri is pretty annoying as I keep accidentally clicking her.

    The whole aggrevating process did allow me to kick back and appreciate my own layers of cybersecurity as I slogged through logging back into every single service, app and website, many of which hide behind 2FA. This is why people never restart their machines.

    Siri has started to saying things into my earbuds unbidden.

    I’ve also just about finished building out StribLab, the Star Tribune’s Github repo where all of our data visualizations, tools and other projects are being stored and open sourced for future and public use. The light is nearly at the end of that tunnel after months of archiving and development work. So I should have known that a technocrash was imminent. Hell, it’s finals week too, so the technology in my life just still kinda knows, even three years after graduation. It’s some kind of cosmis PTSD.

    Christ, Siri, is why I don’t use an iPhone.

    Technical quagmires like these rob me of precious productivity during my work day, and just as I was starting to figure out the relationship between SASS, NPM and Gulp for building data visualizations.

    SirIETQ+TASJTK@WTOIWY$@%OO$LMSDASEJSFHKDGH_AWJI@#T

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    1. LaFrance, Adrienne. “Did Someone Just Share a Random Google Doc With You?” The Atlantic. May 3, 2017. Link 

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Datamancy is the work of Frey Hargarten, a data journalist and artist.

Don't take my word for anything -- do lots of research instead. My work here is offered under the Creative Commons license.

Opinions are mine and don't reflect the stances of my employer.

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