Tues 7 January, 2563 BE (2020 AD).
The old lady was up before dawn, as she always is. She and her husband farm a few rai of land in Iran, Northern Thailand, growing vegetables, rice and sugar. In landlocked Isan it gets hellish hot in the middle of the day, and the best hours are from 5 or 5.30 until about 10 or 11, when they break for lunch. Then work on, more gently, choosing tasks that can be done in the shade if possible. Buaphan is 75, still healthy, straight-backed, and energetic. Her husband Sak is 79, and still strong, though getting slow. He only has one gear — and that’s first — but he can keep going all day. Slow, slow, but never stopping. Once in a while, he’ll a nap in the hammock during the hottest hours. But back to work at 3, till it’s getting dark at 6.30. Then eat, and sleep. And that’s it, every day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. Every hour of light is spent outside. They only come inside to sleep.
So Buaphan was cooking breakfast on her wood stove — with so much wood lying around, why use gas? — when her eye was caught by something strange: a procession of bright lights moving silently across the dark sky. A straight line, evenly spaced, a taut string of stars.
There was something spooky about it. Nothing natural, obviously.
So she asked her daughter, who speaks English, to ask me if I knew what it was. I thought I did (and I’m sure you do too). With a little checking online, I established that she had witnessed a SpaceX satellite train. Every three weeks or so, a Falcon-9 rocket blasts off from Cape Canaveral Airforce Base in Florida with a payload of sixty satellites. Bua had witnessed a fraction of the third deployment. In total there will be eventually be 12,000 satellites, rising in the future to 42,000, subject to Federal Communications Commission approval.
They call it a ‘constellation’. The planet is to be encased in three ‘orbital shells’ at 340, 550 and 1,150 km above the earth’s surface.
Starlink’s tens of thousands of satellites, using lasers and powerful phased-array transmitters to relay data, aims to bring saturation internet coverage to the entire inhabited surface of the planet.
And then there’s Skynet. As well as the fictional neural network-based artificial general super-intelligence waging war on humans in the ‘Terminator’ film franchise, SKYNET is the name of an actual NSA surveillance system, which performs machine learning analysis on communications data to track suspected terrorists.
NEXT: THE AI MODEL