July 7, 1999 - Cerro Paranal
Tomorrow will mark my first month at ESO, and two months in Antofagasta.
The Atacama is a very strange place for me. I'm a Canadian prairie boy; snow grass and
mosquitoes are all I really understand, and here we have none of the above here. This place is dead, dead, dead. Sand and rocks.
And garbage (more on this later).
Our apartment is only 30
kilometers or so, south of the Tropic of Capricorn, so the climate is very stable. It doesn't get really hot or cold. It just stays about room temperature, which is why my brand new, very modern building has no heating
or air conditioning.
My wife and I live on the 15th floor of a seaside condo. It has three bedrooms, and a galley style kitchen. The bedrooms are carpeted, the two bathrooms tiled and the living room and hallways are
hardwood. We have an amazing view of the ocean and mountains. I'll post pictures as soon as we furnish the place... I put up pictures of our view much sooner. The place is pretty damn expensive, but there isn't much
choice. Expensive or more expensive. Which is why we are planning to build a house.
Next week we are going to San Pedro de Atacama (of the famous cactus), to look for land. We want to build a self-sufficient, solar powered
I expect construction to take at least 1 year, simply because of other obligations.
July 8 1999- Cerro Paranal
Had another earthquake. At 9:20, it was a 5.6 and the epicenter was about 10km from the observatory. The control room shook pretty badly, and the UT2 telescope will be off
line due to a loss of hydrolic pressure.
August 6, 1999 - Cerro Paranal
MindPixel is progressing. I finally paid
Internet Solutions for the domain name, and now I am in the process of finishing the alpha version of the business plan, as well as
initial designs for the website and database structure. I hope to have at least something at www.mindpixel.com by the end of this month. Test the link and see if I met my deadline...
Started ArConDev mailing list last month. It is a mailing list for people interested in
the development of Artificial consciousness. To subscribe just click on the link. Right now, it has a grand total of 7 subscribers including myself.
August 8 1999 - Cerro Paranal
Quite frequently, people bring up HAL, the artificial consciousness from Clarke's 2001 in conversation . They ask me if that is what I'm working on, and I reply: not
exactly. What I'm actually working on is a core module (IBM already completed the chess playing module:
Deep Blue) of such a system; the internal model of self and world that is the center of identity of any conscious entity.
Don't think of HAL, but rather think of BIT, from Disney's TRON. If you remember BIT was a simple character (in fact a minimum character), only able to
respond to yes/no questions (one bit questions). It is my opinion that the first artificial consciousness will closely resemble BIT.
This BITlike system will be indistinguishable from a human being answering yes/no
questions. Eventually some other higher order HALlike system, will use such a BITlike subsystem to have completely authentic human style conversations, by
transforming it's yes/no model of reality into a more complex linguistic communication system.
August 9, 1999 - Paranal
I was outside looking at Orion when I saw an amazing moon rise this morning at
5:40 am. I stood on the catwalk from the control room to the mountain proper, and on the horizon was the thinnest sliver of moon with the entire disk visible in a dull
red. From my point of view, it looked like it was sitting on the ground right beside the UT 4 telescope. This is the new moon that in two more orbits, will eclipse the sun
for the last time this millennium. An eclipse that I fear will be very disappointing for many in Europe.
Yesterday I got an email from someone asking me if I believed in life elsewhere in
the universe, if we will ever detect such civilizations and about AI's traveling in space. I replied:
"Yes I believe in life elsewhere. As for detecting other civilizations, we might have
already but have failed to recognize the fact. I think you have to think about this on time scales people don't think about very will. Not hundreds or thousands of years,
but millions. The earth will be here for a long time, still a few billion years of life left in the sun. As a person I have a hard time thinking of what earth will be like in 2
million years... but think of this: an artificial consciousness can be permanent. That is it will not die, it will just keep experiencing and experiencing. It can't help but
think on time scales that we can't understand. It could roam around the galaxy for millions and millions of years, stopping only long enough to talk to others and obtain
resources it needs to move and think and remember."
"If you live forever, star travel is the same as walking."
Nasa is just begining to use Artificial Intelligence in space:
Autonomous Reasoning Control for Spacecraft and other Complex Systems
"Remote Agent is a LISP-based software package developed to autonomously control a spacecraft, and is a precursor for self-aware, self-controlled and operated
robots, exploring rovers, and intelligent machines that had heretofore been only the subject of science fiction."
Deep Space 1 probe is very interesting to me for another reason. It has an Ion
engine. My grade 8 and 9 science projects were Ion engines. The second one was hydrodgen fueled and caused my project to be shut down when the officials saw the
cylinder of hydrogen (This was the first time I had a science project shut down, 2 years later, in 1984 my project on computer software copy protection was shut down
when the suits from IBM came to visit... but this was a good thing, and a completely different story I'll tell at another time).
May 20, 2000 - Antofagasta
On May 12th, I had the most frightning event of my entire life. I woke up at about 20 minutes before 3pm, after a long night on Paranal and called my wife at home.
We were speaking for less than two minutes before an earthquake struck. It was quite strong, but I wasn't worried because I was in a steel container, on the ground;
nothing could hurt me. But... the earthquake was also effecting my wife, some 120 north of me. And effecting her very strongly. This was some big arthquake.
Our apartment is on the 15th floor of a brand-new building, itself sitting driectly on bedrock. Jessica was terrified. She ran to be with the baby and kept saying: "This is
bad Chris. Very bad." We've both been through more than a few earthquakes, but not like this one. I kept trying to keep her calm, but could help wondering if the line
would just go dead and I'd never see her or my son alive again.
The building stopped shaking after about 5 minutes and appears to have survived
the quake undamaged. But just thinking about the sound of my wife's voice that day, starts me shaking all over again.
Below is the USGS summary of the event. It was a 7.0 cenetered about 400km west
of Paranal. It killed only one person, a mine worker.