Self-Replicating Machines are the Next Big Thing

What About Progress?

Where” many people ask “is my flying car?

Progress is the idea that, in both the short and long term, things get better.  For much of human history, progress meant better tools for farming and hunting which allowed more people to live free from hunger.  It meant the development of strong nation-states that freed people from the horrors of civil war.  It meant medicine, urbanism, industrialization, ships, trains, cars, planes, computers, and smartphones.  It meant that people can live longer and better lives while working less and seeing more of the world.

Flying-Prius-630x420

I’m sure this is exactly what you had in mind

There is a growing feeling in the most advanced countries that progress has slowed or even stopped.  Life expectancy and income for some is lower than it was for their parents.  The growing threat of climate change makes others question the foundations of industrial civilization itself.

There is another way.

Human labor is the magic ingredient that provides us with everything we have, and progress ultimately depends on increasing people’s standards of living without necessarily increasing the amount of human labor they provide.  This improvement is frequently in terms of material goods: More living space, an air-conditioner, better food, or more clothes.  It can be a service: Healthcare, art, or a taxi ride.  It can be structural: Democracy, disease prevention, or nondiscrimination laws.

Self-replicating machines can only provide the first of these.  But they can do so in such an effective way that they will massively increase the standard of living of all people.  In doing so they will make it possible for us to fulfill even our most outlandish dreams.

work-in-progress

We’re much better off now.

Globally, economic growth is about 2%-3%.  At this rate, the world economy will double in size every 25-35 years.  Reducing this doubling time is the most basic way in which self-replicating machines (SRMs) will help humanity:  With short reproduction times and efficient, labor-free operation, our ability to provide for ourselves will increase much faster than it ever could traditionally.

What Can Self-Replicating Machines Do?

Although it’s cool, a machine that can build a copy of itself is of no intrinsic value.  SRMs in the abstract are as economically useful as plants, animals, or bacteria in the wild: Interesting, but not of any material benefit to people.

In order to build a copy of itself, any SRM will have a wide variety of capabilities.  It will obtain resources from the surrounding environment; it will convert these resources into usable materials; it will form these materials into usable parts; and it will assemble these parts into a self-replicating machine.  It will need to generate electrical and thermal energy, dispose of waste materials, and create structures to house its machinery.  Each SRM will be massively complex and will contain a large number of different components.

In short: If you can build a machine that can build a copy of itself, you can also build nearly anything else.  An SRM will be able to shape materials in a variety of different ways to produce a large number of different components.  It will be a Universal Constructor.

A Universal Constructor is a machine that can build anything.  An SRM, on the face of it, is not this.  There will be a limit to the capabilities of the machine.  Perhaps there will be a minimum feature size it can attain.  Perhaps it will be unable to find and extract certain elements from its environment.  Perhaps there are certain kinds of assembly that it is unable to do.

advanced_automation_for_space_missions_figure_5-19

Artist’s Rendition of an SRM on the Moon

The important point to recognize is that while it is possible to build a machine to do these things, an SRM will not be designed to do so.  What it could do is build a machine that could do these things, or build a machine that could build a machine that can do them, et cetera.  An SRM will necessarily be flexible enough in its abilities that such progress is possible.  All we need to do is tell it how.  This is not so different from the development of human technology:  In the beginning, we could only create things on a relatively human scale.  Now we can create things as small as a few atoms or as large as a cross-continental highway.

The difference is that, with no inputs of human labor and potentially operating on common or otherwise unused land, SRM can do so at a cost approaching zero.

Where Will This Take Us?

There are accomplishments that we can dream of, but which we don’t do because of their prohibitive cost and scale.

It’s possible to dig a tunnel from New York to London on which trains will travel at supersonic speeds.

It’s possible to build every person on Earth a house and allow them to live in it for free.

It’s possible to solve world hunger with robotic farms that create and deliver all the food humanity needs.

It’s possible to have factories in space that create all of the goods that people could want and land them right in front of you as-needed, and also in doing so to create new habitable worlds on which people live.

Self-Replication and Universal Construction are incredibly powerful technologies, especially when combined.  Given time, the only limit to our capabilities will be our imagination and our ability to describe what we want done.

vrS6aas

The future of Mars?

Will This Be the End of the World?

No.

SRM is most frequently discussed as part of a “Gray Goo” scenario, where self-replicating nanomachines replicate out of control and turn the whole world into replicators.  Real, near-term SRM will not be like this for the very simple reason that it won’t be made of nanomachines.  Like any large, complex system it’ll be relatively easy to stop an SRM if you want to by damaging its components.  A good design would also include simple but effective safety features such as an on/off switch.

Perhaps SRM will be designed with one small but necessary component requiring human installation.  Perhaps they will be designed to need a small amount of some rare element or compound that they can’t obtain from their environment.

No matter how well they are designed, SRM will have replication times measured in months and years, not milliseconds.  They simply won’t move fast enough to be a serious threat.

How Do We Get There?

There are Five Fundamental Stages through which matter must be transformed in order to create SRM:

  1. Resources: Matter in its state of nature, before incorporation into a machine
  2. Ores: Resources which have been extracted from nature and are ready to be transformed into useful materials
  3. Ingots: Purified materials which can be formed into different parts
  4. Parts: Single components of a machine made from ingots via some process
  5. Systems: Fully functional machines or parts of machines

The Four Fundamental Processes are the classes of technologies that allow matter to move forward through these Stages:

  1. Extraction
  2. Smelting (By analogy to Iron, meaning the processes required to create a simple substance from ore)
  3. Forming
  4. Assembly

Depending on the material being worked with and the properties of the final product, each of these four processes will be done in a number of different ways using different technologies.

I do not mean to oversimplify: What I have described above is a framework for a very challenging endeavor.  However challenging it may be, it is one of the most worthwhile things that we could strive to do.

I propose that the best way to attack this project is to begin at the middle and work outwards.  The middle is ingots of the most useful industrial material the world has ever known: Mild Carbon Steel.

Starting from this ingot, we move both backwards and forwards: How do we smelt this ingot out of the relevant ores?  By which technologies do we turn this steel into useful materials?

Carbon Steel contains just two elements: Iron and Carbon.  Iron ore is normally smelted into Iron using Coal.  However, Hydrogen works just as well, has a larger number of applications, and can be extracted from water by electrolysis.  Carbon could be obtained from charred biomass.  By mixing the two in appropriate quantities at high temperatures, you have Steel.

solartower

One way for an SRM to generate power is a Solar Power Tower, which uses arrays of mirrors to focus sunlight on a small area.

There are a number of ways in which Steel can be formed into useful parts, but two particularly useful technologies will likely be Investment Casting and Profile Cutting.  Investment Casting can take advantage of 3D Printing technology to create a complicated shape in 3 dimensions, form a mold around it, and then turn the 3D Printed part into a cast Steel part.  Profile cutting can create a wide variety of 2D shapes in Steel Plates of various thickness.

Each process will require its own mix of parts and materials.  From this it will be possible to add to the lists of Resources, Ores, Ingots, Parts, and Systems as well as to the lists of Extraction, Smelting, Forming, and Assembly processes that will be used in SRM.

Design Philosophy

There are a few ways of thinking that are vital to making SRM technology real and successful.  To my mind, some of the more important ones are as follows:

  1. Sustainability: SRM enables us to realize our ambitions on a global scale but also requires us to think of our actions globally.  Therefore it’s vital to design these machines to have no emissions of Greenhouse Gases or other pollutants.
  2. Minimum Viable Products: Perfect is the enemy of Good Enough.  The first products of any development effort will be closer to proofs-of-concept than to SRM.  Even as we approach SRM, there will be some human labor required to enable self-replication.  This will ideally take the form of cartridges of hard-to-find but important materials (Fluorine or Copper being great examples) loaded onto the machines at the beginning of the self-reproduction cycle.  Long-term it will be desirable to find substitutes for these materials such as using Aluminium in wires instead of Copper and finding ways to make Aluminium without fluorine.
  3. Modularity: SRM is similar in a lot of ways to a living organism.  Like living organisms, different configurations of SRM are better suited to different environments.  Therefore it is important to make it easy to modify the Self-Replicating system to adapt it to different environments.
  4. Commonality of Parts: It’s easier to make 100 of 1 thing than 1 each of 100 things.  The fewer different techniques are required to create a SRM, the faster its replication time will be.
11-img-13

We could live like this if we wanted to.

What Now?

I have laid out the bare-bones outlines of the future we can live in.  What we need to do is to make it happen.  We need to design the subsystems, develop the technologies, and implement them for our own purposes.  We can do this by direct design and by spreading awareness of the revolutionary potential of SRM.

I would encourage anyone who is interested to comment or to contact me.  Talk to people you know about the possibilities of SRM to raise their interest.  SRM is just a dream until we make it happen.

Replace the Electoral College

People are making a lot of noise this year about the Presidential Primaries being undemocratic and unfair.  However, I would like to focus on an equally undemocratic and unfair process that renders the general election votes of most Americans virtually meaningless:  The Electoral College.  The Electoral College is one of the most undemocratic, unrepresentative, and archaic institutions in the politics of the United States and should be eliminated in favor of a national popular vote.

The electoral college is the system by which the United States indirectly elects its President and Vice President every four years.  It was written into the Constitution in 1787 as a way to filter the voice of the masses by allowing them to pick “Electors” who would actually decide who became President.  The system has on several occasions (1800, 1824, 1860, 1876, 2000) caused Constitutional Crises that alternate voting systems might have avoided.  Every four years, the system takes away the ability of most Americans to have a significant effect in determining the outcome of the General Election.

It is this last point that I would like to home in on.  Election turnout in the United States is low compared to other countries, in part because many people feel like their votes don’t matter.  For most people, this is probably true.  The problem here is similar to gerrymandering:  While the general election results are typically fairly close (Obama beat Romney nationally by 3.9 percentage points), individual states are typically not (On average, whichever candidate won a given state won by 19.5 percentage points).  This has the effect that, unless you live in a state that tends to be balanced politically, your vote has little effect on the final election results.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone.  The states I just described are called “Swing States”.  These are the states that decide the election, time after time.  Although every person’s vote “counts” equally as one vote, a vote in these states matters more in determining who actually becomes the president.

This is calculable after-the-fact, too, in the following way:

  1. Find the margin of victory for the winner in a given state
  2. Take the inverse of this number.  This gives you the importance of each vote in determining the winner of this state.
  3. Multiply that by the number of electoral college votes this state has.  This is the importance of your vote, expressed in electoral college votes.
  4. Divide this number by half of the margin of victory for the winner of the electoral college.  This is the importance of the decision by each voter to vote in that state, expressed as a fraction of a win.

I have done this for each state in 2012 and mapped the result:

vote importance map

The states varied in importance from Washington, DC (Where a person’s decision to vote is 194 billionths of a general election victory) to Florida (Where a person’s decision to vote is 6,195 billionths of a general election victory, 32 times more important).  The numbers vary from year to year:  In 2000, a vote in Florida would have been worth much, much more than a vote in any other state.  In 2008, a relatively easy win for Obama, less so.

What if we did it differently?  If the Electoral College were abolished in favor of a national popular vote, everyone’s vote would count equally.  Voters in California and Utah would be equally important to a candidate’s hopes as voters in Ohio and Florida.  Instead of candidates competing for the votes of people who are similar to (but not the same as) you, they would actually be addressing your concerns in your neighborhood.

We Can Fix This

Although the electoral college is in the Constitution, State laws describe how electors must vote.  Most states require their electors to vote for whoever won the popular vote in their state.  However, a state could require its electors to vote for whoever won the national popular vote.  If 270 electoral college votes worth of states (a majority) were to do so, the president would effectively be chosen by the national popular vote.

There is just such a movement.  It is called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.  It has already been signed by 10 states and DC comprising 165 electoral college votes.  As few as four more states could be required to enact this into law: Texas, Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania combined have 107 electoral college votes, just enough to put the Compact over the top.

It’s not too late to make this law for 2016.  If you live in a state that has not yet adopted the Compact, please call your representatives in State government and ask them to improve American Democracy!

Electric Propulsion, VASIMR, and 39 Days to Mars

I’m writing today about a very dubious claim made by the Ad Astra Rocket Corporation about their electric propulsion system VASIMR.  VASIMR is a type of electric propulsion, and is probably one of the better kinds under development at this time.

If you don’t know much about electric propulsion or VASIMR, Wikipedia is an excellent reference for both and I recommend it highly before reading on.

The claim that I find so objectionable is that VASIMR enables transportation to Mars within 39 days.  Electric propulsion is great for what it’s good for – missions with long travel times where mass is at a premium and power is not.  It is not good for manned missions for exactly these reasons.

Dr. Robert Zubrin, true to form, has responded with a bombastic but very much correct rebuttal to this claim.  I would like to expand upon his intuition here using some numbers to demonstrate why this claim is so fundamentally and probably intentionally deceptive.

What follows is my methodology.  If you don’t care, by all means skip down to the results and the graphics below the second divider line.


In order to do so, I’m going to assume a couple things:

  1. The change in gravitational potential energy of the Earth and Sun are small in comparison to the kinetic energy of the spacecraft.  This is justifiable: The minimum distance between Earth and Mars is about 75 million km.  Traversing this distance in 39 days implies a mean velocity of 22 km/s, so 44 km/s to accelerate and decelerate, although the actual peak velocity and therefore total delta-V budget will be much higher.  For comparison, the delta-V from Low Earth Orbit to Low Mars Orbit on a minimum energy trajectory is about 6 km/s.  Therefore I will treat this as a straight kinematics problem.
  2. The spacecraft accelerates, turns around, and decelerates with no time in between.  This minimizes the power requirements but not the delta-V requirements.  While this is not strictly the optimum result (depending in large part on what you’re optimizing for) it’s justified by the fact that electric propulsion systems, VASIMR included, have very low thrust and thus accelerating to acceptable velocities in shorter time spans is even less reasonable.  Furthermore, because of the high exhaust velocity the relative cost of higher exhaust velocities is low.
  3. The transit speeds will be too high to make aerobraking at Mars or Earth a reasonable proposal.  In some senses, the possibility of aerobraking cancels out the change in gravitational potential energy which I am neglecting.
  4. The engines will produce a constant force at all times, but because the mass will vary with time the acceleration will change.

I will cite the sources for my numbers if possible or justify them if not.

Newton’s Second Law states that:

afm

Where F is Force, a is acceleration, and m is mass.  Of these, only Mass is a function of time:

mot

So we have:

aot

Where m0 is the initial mass, r is the rate of change of mass (always negative) and t is the time since the engine began firing.  Keeping in mind that acceleration is a function of time, I integrated and got the following (Checked with Wolfram Alpha):

dV

Where ΔV is the change in velocity from time 0 to time 1, but not the ΔV of the mission taken as a whole.  Basically, we need to solve for when the ship needs to change from speeding up to slowing down by calculating the ΔV from 0 s to t1 and t1 to 39 days, setting them equal to each other, and solving for t1.  The result is as follows:

t1

Finally, we need to solve for the amount of force that’s required to do this maneuver.  This is a function of total distance.  But rather than integrate again and try to solve a nasty and possibly un-solvable algebraic formula (we’re not savages, after all!), I wrote a Matlab code to do the integration for me and allowed me to guess various levels of force until I found one that was right.  I realize there are better ways to do this and don’t care very much because this one worked fine.

In order to give real mass breakdowns, payload fractions, etc., I also have to give some numbers to the thrust-to-weight ratio of engines, power sources, and fuel tanks.  Therefore, I will use the following numbers for the mass of system components:

  1. 830 W/kg for the VASIMR engine, as given in this paper.  Please note that this is actually an estimate for an engine that hasn’t been built, meaning it is very much open to manipulation, since the author of the paper is also the owner of Ad Astra Rocket Corp.  The paper also suggests a pathetic electric-to-kinetic efficiency of 4% for presently existing engines.  I will use Mr. Chang Diaz’s projections that future engines can reach 50% efficiency.  This means that the kinetic energy of the exhaust will be 415 W/kg of engine.
  2. I will assume that a solar power system with a specific power of 300 W/kg will be used.  This is higher than currently existing designs, which as of 2004 were getting less than 100 W/kg.  This is also higher than nuclear systems.  Even the SAFE-400 (Go to Wiki) is a very modern nuclear design and doesn’t include any systems to convert thermal energy to electrical energy, its specific power is under 200 W/kg.
  3. I will assume that tankage requirements constitute 5% of the mass of whatever is in the tank.  This is actually really optimistic because VASIMR uses a very light Hydrogen fuel.  For example, the Space Shuttle External Tank massed 29,930 kg, and contained 721,045 kg of fuel.  However, most of this weight is Liquid Oxygen, which is much more dense than Liquid Hydrogen.  Pure Liquid Hydrogen is about 5 times less dense (70 kg/m^3 as compared to 360 kg/m^3) than the Hydrogen/Oxygen mixture used in the shuttle; If the tank contained the same volume of only liquid Hydrogen, the tank’s mass would be more than 20% of the mass of the stuff in the tank.  So this is a really generous assumption.

Here are the two MATLAB scripts used for this calculation, linked to on Pastebin.  It’s important that the two scripts retain their names, so save VASIMR.m as VASIMR.m and rocket.m as rocket.m.  Capitalization matters!

VASIMR.m

rocket.m

They need to be saved into the same folder in order to work.  If you don’t have MATLAB on your computer and don’t want to pay for it, FreeMat should be able to run these programs just as well and doesn’t cost anything.  The way the script works is that once you’ve chosen your parameters (I believe I’ve mentioned all the important ones in this post, but please note that the script uses exhaust velocity, which is a factor of 9.8 times higher than Isp) you do guess-and-check by changing the force value until it outputs a “Distance” (This is the ratio of the distance travelled to the minimum distance from Earth to Mars) equal to 1.  As I said, there are better ways to do this and I didn’t feel like doing any of them because this works well enough.


Here are my results:

Results for Various Isp values.

Results for Various Isp values.

I chose to give a large number of significant digits for the initial acceleration, because it’s very sensitive to slight changes in this value.  All numbers are used in their typical way.  Normal mass ratios for Marsbound vehicles using chemical fuel are around 3, and anything above about 10 is very high; Above 20 is probably impossible.

The most important number in this chart is the Necessary Reduction Factor (NRF).  It describes the ratio of necessary solid mass to the amount of allowable solid mass.  For example, if you choose an exhaust velocity such that your rocket has a mass ratio of 4, and its initial mass is 80 tonnes, you can have up to 20 tonnes of solid mass.  But let’s say your tanks mass 3 tonnes, your engines mass 17 tonnes, and your power source masses 20 tonnes.  That would mean you would need 40 tonnes of solid mass to complete your mission, and you would have a NRF of 40/20=2.  Basically, it describes how much you need to shrink down your components to make the mission feasible.  For NRFs below 1, you have some amount of payload carrying capability too.

As you can see, there is no value of the exhaust velocity for which the NRF of this system is below 1, or even anywhere close.  By picking an Isp value between 5,000 s and 10,000 s, it’s possible to get a value slightly below 12, but not one below 11.

For Dr. Chang Diaz’s claims to be true, VASIMR and all related technologies would have to be at least twelve times lighter than they actually are.

But its even worse than that: The engines that Ad Astra Rocket Corporation has actually tested have Isps of about 2,000 seconds.  For rockets with exhaust speeds that low, the mass ratios get so high that it’s nearly impossible to get a value for how much mass is actually left.

Basically, Ad Astra Rocket Corporation is about as close to being able to do this as Ford is to building a car that gets 200 miles to the gallon at 1,500 mph.

The image below shows just how much this technology blows past the mass limits available to it.

Engine Mass and Total System Mass relative to maximum allowable mass

Engine Mass and Total System Mass relative to maximum allowable mass

The maximum allowable mass is normalized to 1, with the mass of the engines and total system masses expressed relative to this.  As you can see, they’re much, much higher.

For anyone who’s interested, here’s a plot of the Position-Time and Velocity-Time profiles for a typical scenario (I used Isp=5,000 s):

Position-Time and Velocity-Time graphs for typical transit

Position-Time and Velocity-Time graphs for typical transit

If you took high school physics, these graphs should be familiar to you.  Notice that the velocity graph’s peak corresponds to the turnaround point, which happens towards the end of the transit because the acceleration increases at the mass decreases.

So, there you have it: Claims debunked.  Spread the word.

The American Democracy Act

Here’s something for all of you, that should come as no surprise:

Congress is broken.

Congress actually has two jobs:  Writing legislation, and passing legislation.  It’s doing an abysmal job of both.

Writing legislation is the process of determining the problems that need to be solved, researching the issue, and coming up with good policy solutions.  It involves foreseeing issues in implementation and addressing them.  It involves writing the legislation in a concise, legible way.  It involves writing legislation without undue influence from lobbying groups and special interests.  It involves writing legislation that actually works for real Americans.

Passing legislation is the politics required to get to 218 votes (A majority) in the House and 60 votes (A filibuster-proof majority) in the Senate.  It involves the ability to work through the political process in such a way as to get legislation passed, both through choosing passable legislation to fight for and through taking the right strategies to get your legislation signed into law.

Congress’ approval rating hovers around 10%.  By almost any measure, Congress is doing a bad job, and nobody seems to know how to fix it.

Here’s my proposal: American Democracy Act (Link to .doc download of the full text, 8 pages).

Here’s how it works:

The US government will create a website, which will take the form of a wiki, where people can propose and collaborate on legislation.  We’ve seen from Wikipedia, among other things, that with a proper set of guidelines and culture people interacting on the Internet can make some things that are truly great.  There’s a vote page, where people can Support or Oppose legislation, and the legislation with the most support and least opposition is regularly sent to Congress.

Congress has to vote on the legislation, and it will pass if it gets 218 votes in the House and 51 in the Senate (No filibusters permitted!), when it will go to the President to sign.  It’s simple, it doesn’t require a Constitutional amendment, and it gives the American people real say into what their government does in the process of governing them.

If this sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to read the bill, or ask questions, or comment, and spread the word!

Filtrescence

In the great last vestiges of an empty day I sit quietly.

The wind whips at the trees, backwards and forth;

The grey and purple sky lies grand above me, its staid contrast to the moving leaves

All the stronger in the dying light of day.

I look north, and see a building:

Tall, but eclipsed by one much taller

Overlaid as if a reflection had been pulled from a mirror

Over and over again.

As its gaunt corners reach higher and higher to infinity

All becomes ethereal.

The world around me and the world to be

Merge seamlessly into a great flame of human ambition

Burning ever brighter and higher till it pierces the sky.

Indeed it burns forever;

The whole universe is subsumed in flame,

And I stand there overwhelmed by its uniqueness.

Our solid tendrils wispy

As the future to come beckons forward

The air is still and the moment passes.

I am a mere human,

Standing alone on the smallest of worlds

Hoping, dreaming, for a pen and something to write upon

As the sun sets on a moment of eternity

Unilateral Metrication

As you may already be aware, I have a particular dislike for the system of units used in the United States, and a great love for the International System (SI, for Système International) Units. It is a great pain to me that my home country is stubbornly holding out against its inevitable adoption of units that simply make sense.

There are plenty of benefits to doing this, but these have all been argued before. And, more importantly, the argument has been settled: 95.6% of humanity lives in countries where SI units, or some variant thereof, are or shortly will become the standard and the norm. This is perhaps the only social construct which we as a species have ever really agreed on and used in exactly the same way.

The meter and the gram, two of seven base units in the metric system, were defined in a law passed by the First Republic of France on April 7, 1795, nearly 220 years ago. Since then the metric system’s progress towards universal human adoption has been direct and linear. The United States is the only country that is both large enough and stupid enough to hold on to an archaic and poorly designed system of units whose obsolescence has long been clear. This has left it with an unfortunate and often confusing mix of archaic US “Imperial” units and metric units. Basically, it boils down to this: Any time measurement accuracy is important, measurement will be done in metric units. This holds for the fields of science, engineering, construction, and medicine. Whenever it is necessary that people who may or may not have graduated high school understand what you’re doing, US units are used in preference to a quick explanation of the metric system.

As on many other issues, American politicians and cultural leaders are united against the tide of logic. This goes beyond the two-party system. While both Democrats and Republicans are opposed to metrication, so is the Constitution party, the Libertarian party, and the Green party. Actually, so far as I can tell, there is no political party in the United States, no matter how minor, that supports metrication as an element of their platform. This is a disgrace.

But I digress. What can we do about this? Well, there are two answers. The first is that we can and should start a metrication party, and we should lobby all parties, major and minor, to add metrication to their platform. I suspect the Greens would be most amenable, but more on this later.

What I propose is that we begin metrication with ourselves. Each of us has the power to measure our height in meters and our mass in kilograms. We can all tell our weather widgets to give us the temperature in Celsius, and we can tell our navigation units to give us the distance to our destination in kilometers.

I believe strongly that society is the sum of its members. For every person who metricates, we push back the tide of Imperial units and bring their inevitable obsolescence closer. Within the US, this amounts to a unilateral decision to metricate. From a global perspective, however, it is simply a recognition that it is time to give up on the idea of American Exceptionalism, and join humanity in a species-wide pursuit of progress.

Layers

In the abandoned cliffs of a faraway land

There is a steep, rocky path which one can take through treacherous territory

To a small ledge which sits high above the surrounding forest and empty countryside

Sitting upon this stone outcropping all the noises of humanity are infinitely far

Not just over the horizon but over the next one, and the one after

As if in a dream, an empty world stretches on forever

The noises of man fall away.

Unmuffled, birds chirp.

Bushes rustle in the breeze. The breeze itself brushes upon my ears, its ethereal rumbling the only sure way to know I am here

My world is green and gray and blue and white

Moss grows and dies; the rocks themselves are as people, staring imperiously down on all that lies below

Loudest of all is the silence.

 

In this world without man, uncompromising silence is the bedrock to which reality is anchored.

Listening in, there is no buzz and no hum.

Man’s works serve only to hide and obscure.

What then, is truly the dream?

Stationary upon silence eternal,

Value and worth themselves

Fall away.

Leaving only

The barest

Essence:

I am.