Let us start with the definitions of artificial and human intelligence.                                                         

Artificial intelligence [AI] is the intelligence of machines or software and is a branch of computer science that studies and develops intelligent machines and software. The field is also defined as “the study and design of intelligent agents” where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximises its chances of success. 

Human intelligence is the property of mind that encompasses the capacities to reason, plan, problem solve, think, comprehend ideas, use languages, communicate and learn. 

These two definitions [Wikipedia] demonstrate just how far we are away from true AI. 

 Our brain is a remarkable organ – a ‘computer’ with about 100 billion neurons [nerve cells] and an equal number of neuroglia which serve to support the neurons. Each neuron may be connected to 10,000 other neurons, passing signals via 1,000 trillion synaptic connections equivalent to a computer with a 1 trillion bit per second processer. Estimates of the human brain’s memory range from 1 to 1000 terabytes. The 19 million volumes in the US Library of Congress represent about 10 terabytes.




With this amazing computing power we should all be geniuses but human brains are remarkably inefficient in key ways – our memories are lousy, our grasp of logic is shallow and our capacity to do arithmetic is dismal. However, in some ways we outstrip our silicon based computers which are so good at maths, logic and memory. Your average ten-year-old, for example, can learn to play any number of games and well, if not quite at a world-class level. How do human beings manage to be so flexible, and what would it take to make a machine equally supple in learning new things?


Today’s’ computers are in every aspect of our life and they are very complex and fast –  multi core processors operating at 6 Gb/sec with 1-2 terabyte hard drives and 8Gb RAM memory are typical of high end consumer specification. But they are designed [programmed by humans] to carry out specific tasks which they do exceptionally well but you cannot ask a computer to do something for which it has not been programmed. 

A good example is Deep Blue the chess computer designed by IBM in the 90’s which defeated Garry Kasparov, the world champion, on May 11th 1997 over a 6 game-match. But this brilliantly complex computer only plays chess and cannot play any other games or learn by itself to carry out other tasks. 

And this is the fundamental requirement of the AI computer – to learn and respond to changing circumstances and make the best decisions for success. There is a lot of research and development at present but we have a long way to go for true AI – the level that could control a spaceship on a 20 year journey to the stars. We are probably at least 50 years away from this criteria and certainly 150 years away from using it on a star mission.



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 I have discussed in previous posts two of the critical factors for mans’ journey to the stars viz. how to travel at half-light speed and cryo-hibernation for a 20 year voyage. But how can our ‘sleeping’ astronauts have total confidence in the pilot of the spaceship as it hurtles through space at 150,000 kilometres every second?

They can hardly be woken up part way through the journey to inform them that something needs fixing. This would only happen in an ‘abort mission’ scenario. Nor can we consider asking mission control for help – if we are half way to our destination star then it will take five years for the message – “Houston, we have a problem!” to arrive at Earth. And more than five years for the answer to come back!

In short, we are totally on our own in a spaceship that has to be provisioned for every eventuality and for periods up to 50 years if we have a return ticket. A spaceship that is controlled by the most sophisticated and utterly reliable systems that can be designed.

We are talking in the realms of artificial intelligence [AI] – the ultimate extension of the current explosion in computer technology. But we are probably 50-100 years away from the level of AI that would be needed to totally control a 20 year star mission in the middle of the 22nd century. In fact, a Mars base and starship would be such complex undertakings that their construction would have to be totally project managed and accomplished by our AI computer!

I will talk more about AI in the next post but let us familiarise ourselves with computer progress in the last 40 years. In 1972 when Pioneer 10 took off for the stars with its gold plaque on board [seeding the idea for my story], computing technology was rapidly evolving.

In the 1960’s 3rd generation computers occupied whole rooms and used integrated circuits e.g. IBM System/360. In the 70’s the microprocessor revolutionised computing and the first single-chip CPU was the Intel 4004. Then came monitors and keyboards and suddenly computers started to look as they do today and became available to the general public. I remember the BBC computer in the early 80’s with its ‘massive’ 32kB ram! – 32,000 ‘memory slots’. Since then capability has doubled every two years [Moore’s Law] and now we talk in Gigabytes[1 GB = 1,000,000,000] and Terabytes [1 TB = 1,000,000,000,000]. Modest computers today have 16 GB RAM and 1-2 TB hard drives and we have more computing power in our mobile phones than the whole of some of the early space missions.

We have a long way to go to realise true AI which I have visualised in my story. You may want to join my astronauts when, piloted by Zec, they depart on a 20 year voyage to the star Seren in 2150.

You will also find out who or what Zec is.                  

 Read the first few chapters of  The Blue People of  Cloud Planet

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               I have talked in previous posts about the various medical and equipment requirements for a 20 year cryo-hibernation at 5 degrees Celsius. But how do you gain the confidence that the process works and that you will wake up and be mentally and physically fit to carry out your mission at another star?

Testing can be done on animals to give a high degree of confidence but the definitive trials have to be carried out on humans.

But who would volunteer for a 10 years cryo trial!?

I will let Dr. Astronaut Martha Baker explain but first let me set the scene. The year is 2150 and we are at Mars Base in a very special unit. Our 4 astronauts are about to see the cryo-cocoons that they will enter on their starship for a 20 year journey to the star Seren. 

‘I’d like you to meet Dr Astronaut Martha Baker,’ said AJ introducing the four astronauts by name, ‘Martha runs the cryo – hibernation unit here at Mars Base and she is going to show you around.’

Martha was in her late 30s with a small neat figure and smooth dark skin encompassing large eyes. She looked very striking in the white hygiene clothing which they had all changed into before entering the air lock.

The inner door hissed open and AJ and the astronauts followed Martha into the cryo-unit. They had seen many strange sights but this white floor- tiled, white-ceilinged, igloo-shaped room shrieked cleanliness and the astronauts felt almost afraid to enter. There was a constant noise of equipment beeping, valves opening and closing and the hiss of air and other gases pressurising and venting.

Martha beckoned them towards the middle of the room where seven lozenge shape units stood on complex support machinery fed by a multitude of pipes and wires. Behind each an LCD screen bristled with data, graphs and various coloured lights. Six of the structures were closed and the seventh stood open with its upper half retracted.

The four astronauts peered closer into the dark translucent upper halves of the closed units and saw that each contained a body!

‘My God!’ Olivia gasped, ‘Are they alive?’

‘Very much so,’ Martha replied, ‘let me introduce you to our six cryo – hibernation volunteers.’

‘Who on Earth would volunteer to be frozen?’ Steve queried.

‘Well, firstly they’re not frozen but kept at exactly 5 degrees Celsius and secondly on Earth there are still some really bad human beings.’

 Martha paused for effect and then moved closer to the first unit.

‘Let me introduce you to Freddie Riggs, 20 years for armed robbery, killed a security guard – no parole. We offered him 15 in cryo and he’s done 10, five to go – he’ll soon be our longest serving cryo.’

Before the astonished astronauts could respond, Martha moved to the second unit. ‘Lisa Greenfield, killed her young child, very sad case, 10 years but could be out in seven for good behaviour – accepted five from us – one down four to go.’

Martha detailed the next four criminals and then stood before the last open unit. ‘Joe ‘bully’ Saunders, 10 years for serious aggravated assault, no parole, accepted seven from us – went home 4 weeks ago in surprisingly good health and hardly looking a day older!’ 

Finally I will let Zec have the last word.

‘My biggest concern using criminals was maintaining the secrecy and security of the operation at Mars Base. Therefore I chose only those candidates susceptible to hypnosis so that all memories of their stay at Mars Base were erased before returning to Earth.’ 

   So who are Zec, Olivia, Steve and AJ you may wonder? Join them on their starship in 2150 when they go in search of The Blue People of Cloud Planet.                    

 Read the first few chapters of  The Blue People of  Cloud Planet

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                   We need to consider the equipment requirements for an extended cryo-hibernation at say 5 degrees Celsius. We will need a very sophisticated cocoon in which our astronaut can be connected to the many life support systems described in earlier blogs.

One key issue is how to exercise the body during our 20 year hibernation. We often wake up after one nights’ sleep and stretch to remove stiffness – but after 20 years!

But again, let us get Zec to describe an important component inside the cocoon…

‘I am particularly proud of the design of these units especially the surface of the bed in contact with the user. This is comprised of thousands of vertically aligned sprung rods of PTFE plastic, whose smooth dome diameter is 2 millimetres, and they perfectly mould to the body shape providing comfort. But this is secondary to the key functions of the bed. Firstly the rods are raised and lowered a few millimetres in sequential horizontal rows from top to toe ensuring that no part of the body is in constant contact with the bed thus eliminating sores. Secondly, groups of rods are raised and lowered by significant amounts to gently flex the astronaut’s neck, backbone, limbs and fingers to maintain flexibility through the protracted hibernation. All these functions are controlled by the unit’s computer which is programmed with each astronaut’s precise morphology. Signals are sent to the hydraulically controlled pistons at the lower end of each rod enabling the smooth control of every flexing movement. I consider that these beds are a marvel of 22nd century micro-technology.’

And what about getting our eyes open after 20 years?

Again, Zec has the answer…

‘The average human blinks 30-40 times per minute during waking hours and this ensures that the surface of the eyeball remains lubricated with liquid from the tear ducts. After a night’s sleep we sometimes have a little difficulty opening our eyes but after 20 years? Inside the cocoon and during the day the computer is programmed to send a signal every 5 seconds to each astronaut’s goggles where a short burst of harmless radiation causes spasms in the muscle controlling the blinking process. At the same time, a tiny amount of synthetic tear liquid is atomised in front of each eyeball and condenses onto it thus maintaining lubrication.’

Even so when we arrive at our star it will be many weeks after we wake from cryo-hibernation before we are fit enough to search for The Blue People of Cloud Planet.

And who or what is Zec you may ask?                      

 Read the first few chapters of  The Blue People of  Cloud Planet

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             We need to consider the medical and equipment requirements for an extended cryo-hibernation at say 5 degrees Celsius. This week we will focus on medical issues.

The bodies’ metabolism must be slowed to a minimum ‘ticking over’ state whilst maintaining oxygen and blood flow to all vital organs and tissues albeit at a very low rate. This will need some very clever genetically modified DNA or stem cell technology by the end of this century – we certainly don’t have it now.

But let us get Zec to describe this….

‘It is not possible to freeze someone and then thaw them out in some years’ time – the body is 65-75% water and when that turns to ice it expands – think of the damage to delicate nerve ends, capillaries. If you cool someone down, they start shivering in an attempt to generate heat and if they can’t generate enough they die of hypothermia. The key to cryo – hibernation was to cool the body very slowly and at the same time to slow the body functions so that they required very little heat to maintain life. The breakthrough in animal testing 30 years ago (around the turn of the 22nd century) was the use of new strains of genetically engineered DNA which were introduced into the body as it cooled. These controlled the slowdown of body functions, pulse, brain activity etc. and through an exothermic reaction produced minute amounts of heat right at the key points of activity. Provided that the cooling and warming periods were long enough, the infused DNA balanced the bodily rates and the amount of heat required.’

Thus the process was proved first on animals that were successfully recovered after periods of up to 5 years cryo-hibernation. They were in very good health and, surprisingly, showed no deterioration in tissue quality. They appeared not to have aged!

Proving the process on animals was a major breakthrough but how do you entice volunteers to gain confidence that cryo-hibernation works for humans and for periods of up to 20 years?

The answer may surprise you so perhaps you would like to take a 20 year cryo-sleep to the star Seren where we discover The Blue People of Cloud Planet.

Plus you will also find out who or what Zec is!                        

 Read the first few chapters of  The Blue People of  Cloud Planet

See the reviews of  The Blue People of Cloud Planet

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A journey to a star would mean a minimum of 20 years in the confinement of a spaceship – not impossible but a physical and mental strain for the crew – would they arrive in the right frame of mind to tackle the rigours of a new environment. Also they would be at least 20 years older, so experienced astronauts in their 30’s would already be ‘old’ on arrival. Maybe our crew would comprise of families with babies who would be young adults at the end of the journey. But this scenario is more likely for colonisation far ahead in the future. 

So some form of hibernation, a method of protracted sleep, is almost certainly a must for future travel to our nearest stars. The term that springs to most people’s minds is cryo-hibernation [cryo meaning cold] but let us immediately dismiss the myth that you can freeze the human body and thaw back to life years later. Our bodies are 65% water and when that freezes it expands because ice has a lower density. The damage to sensitive cells and membranes would be traumatic. It’s a great process for preserving meats, fish etc in our freezers but in no way addresses human hibernation. 

A cryo process is almost certainly the way forward as we have to slow down dramatically the bodies’ metabolism whilst maintaining a supply of oxygen to every vital organ. A hibernation temperature in the range +10 degrees Celsius to -5 degrees would be required but for the lower temperatures some form of antifreeze would have to be injected into the bloodstream which could cause complications. I consider that +5 degrees Celsius would be optimum to operate a minimal metabolism whilst maintaining tissue integrity. 

There are many other issues to consider. When you wake in the morning you often feel stiff and can hardly get your eyes open! How would we cope after 20 years sleep?

I will discuss these issues in future posts and propose the technology and equipment for successful hibernation but if you want to pre-empt this then…. 

….board my starship in 2150 and sleep for 20 years when you will arrive at the star Seren, 10 light years away, in search of – The Blue People of Cloud Planet.                         

 Read the first few chapters of  The Blue People of  Cloud Planet

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Let us imagine a journey to a star 10 light years away. We start from Mars orbit and outside the planet’s gravitational pull and use advanced rocket technology to reach Jupiter. This is a journey of 555 million kilometres [km] taking 7-8 months at 100,000 km per hour. [Approx. estimate of future capability]

We use the immense mass of Jupiter to attract and accelerate our craft onto a collision course [initially] and at the critical moment re-fire the advanced rockets to sling our spaceship around the gas giant and onto its new trajectory and new speed of 1 million km/hour.

Now we start the nuclear reactor, the only power plant capable of sustaining thrust over a 20 year journey [unless we discover something remarkable during the next 100 years]. The heat output from this reactor would be used to power a new type of drive capable of pushing our craft towards light speed. I will describe one concept which has been around for decades, surprisingly – the ion drive.

Here a stream of positively charged hydrogen ions [H+] is ejected at high speed from the rear of the object being propelled. The thrust is small but in the vacuum of space even a large object can be manoeuvred and accelerated provided you have enough thrusters. The ion drive of a starship is likely to be 50-80 metres in diameter and each of the thrusters say 5 cm round. You could get over 2 million thrusters in this drive [clustered around the advanced rockets] all contributing their power from the emitting stream of hydrogen ions.

By providing constant sufficient acceleration you would design to accelerate from 0.001c to 0.5c in 1 year [c = speed of light].

Thus our journey to a star 10 light years away would be approximately 23 years – 2 years to accelerate, 20 to get there and 1 year to slow down to a manageable speed to orbit around a target planet of our destination star.

 I’m sure the mathematicians among you can calculate the acceleration required and the typical thrust needed from each tube – can we achieve this in 150 years time?

   I think we can and in 2150 my starship leaves Mars for the star Seren, 10 light years away, in search of – The Blue People of Cloud Planet.                           

 Read the first few chapters of  The Blue People of  Cloud Planet

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