5 Billionaires Who Are Making Awesome Sci-Fi Come True
We love the character of Tony Stark because we wish all billionaires would spend their fortunes bringing sci-fi gadgets to life, instead of building gigantic yachts and buying private islands to hold gold-plated orgies. But there are actually a few Tony Starks out there, people who have big, ridiculous dreams and the cash to at least try to make them real.
We're not saying all (or any) of these projects will come to fruition within the next few years, but we're absolutely willing to applaud these crazy, rich bastards for trying.
Dmitry Itskov Wants to Make You Immortal
With a net worth of over a billion dollars and at the tender age of 31, Russian media mogul Dmitry Itskov decided he was going right for the big one: immortality. Well, shit, it kind of makes dudes who blow their money buying professional sports franchises look like a bunch of douchebags.
He's assembled a team of 30 scientists (presumably mad) to pioneer a multistage project that would slowly turn you into a biological robot. The last phase is set for completion in 2045, at which point your brain will have been downloaded into an undying avatar, and we mean "avatar" as in the movie Avatar.
"Of course my avatar has boobs. I'm a billionaire."
The first stage, supposedly to be completed by 2020, offers you a robot version of yourself, controlled by a brain-computer interface -- what experts often call the "RoboCop" phase. The second stage is set to go into effect within five years of the first; this is the money shot of immortality, as it looks to actually transfer your human consciousness into an artificially created representation of your former biological glory.
The third stage would give our new cyborg overlords the ability to emote, possibly gambling on the fact that they'll allow us to live once they know mercy. The final stage is the marriage of each individual facet, resulting in a holographic representation of our former selves, complete with emotions, memories, and (hopefully) empathy.
Making it awesome to robot-play video games in the future.
So, yes, this guy is using his millions to bring Avatar to life, where a race of 'roided-out Smurfs are remote-controlled via someone else's brain, and our lives are almost exactly like a bad grad student cultural studies research paper and/or the plot to Disney's Pocahantas. The movie Avatar ends with genocide, but let's hope we can control ourselves a little better in real life.
Itskov's 2045 initiative produced a nifty inspirational video, claiming the project will lead us into a new way of life, devoid of violence and prejudice (he somehow thinks war will become a thing of the past, rather than simply being far more awesome). Once we make the switch to non-physical forms of existence, we'll be able to pool our collective mind-power to achieve hippie-inspired ends, such as spiritual self-improvement. Hey, laugh all you want; the point is that the guy is spending his cash on this instead of, say, a giant hot tub in the shape of his own penis.
Which is understandable since the accident.
And yes, the goal is to make this technology available to everyone, granting even the working man equal opportunity at immortality -- Itskov believes the price will come down as mass production is achieved. So you too will be able to live as a cyborg for the price of an automobile.
Today, Itskov is making presentations to billionaires and is attempting to raise funding for the first practical application of the avatar project: an artificial body controlled by the mind that he says can be ready in just three to five years with proper funding, which would immediately be great for, say, rescuers and firefighters. Yes, he's talking about technology we saw in Iron Man 3. Jesus, nobody show this guy a copy of Beyond Thunderdome.
Peter Thiel Is Building His Own City in the Ocean
Billionaire Peter Thiel likes to dream big: He tried to create a global currency, which hasn't worked out so well (yet). Then he created PayPal, which worked out famously, because people need to transfer money around online and also sometimes buy illicit things from strangers. He went on to become one of Facebook's first investors, with a half-million-dollar cash injection. Today Thiel is worth about $1.6 billion, and now he wants to build his own city on the open ocean.
No potential dangers we can think of here ...
And he's not going to stop at just one; he wants many micro-nations that will usher in a new way of living. He plans to launch the first of these floaters just off the coast of San Francisco as soon as possible to test the concept. Ultimately, Thiel hopes to see millions upon millions of people living out at sea by mid-century.
It'll be a boon for pirates, if nothing else.
These communities would be situated on giant, several-thousand-ton rig structures that would be diesel-powered and therefore free to move around if pesky clouds are "blocking out Peter's sun." And just to be clear about the real benefits, these floating communities would be an exercise in unconventional forms of small-scale government. Since the communities would exist outside the borders of any and all recognized nations, the micro-nations would be libertarian utopias: no welfare, no minimum wage, light regulations, and, we assume, re-heeeeeallly lax drug laws. Furthermore, with more than hundreds of miles of uninterrupted sea between you and civilization, you'd be privy to the most depraved sex acts ever concocted inside a human brain.
Making it nearly 5 percent dirtier than the regular Internet.
Today the project has officially been named Blueseed, and they are actively doing environmental impact studies, conducting sustainability research, designing the ships/countries, and raising funds. And raising funds. And raising funds. Apparently building a floating country is expensive. But work is moving forward, and they recently just received a major investment in the form of Bitcoins.
Clive Palmer Is Building a Robot Jurassic Park
Having made his fortune in the mining industry, Chris Palmer's net worth today hovers around $900 million, and he seems intent on spending it in various ridiculous ways (see: his five private jets and collection of dinosaur fossils). For instance, he's rebuilding the Titanic. His version is equipped to house 2,435 passengers, as well as 900 crew members, and he totally intends to put that shit in the ocean. Palmer actually funded Blue Star Line, his own shipping company, just so he could build himself the second coming of the world's most famous symbol of the hubris of wealth.
The golden toilet being a close Number 2.
The Titanic II will be nearly identical to its predecessor, only far more pimped out. Oh, and when asked if his new boat would be unsinkable, Palmer chuckled and said, "Anything will sink if you put a hole in it." Although it's recently run into some potential funding issues, the Titanic II is planned to set sail in 2016, with construction slated to start at the end of 2013. So that's the kind of person we're dealing with when we say that he also wants to build a real-life Jurassic Park.
Don't be fooled; it's just an elaborate scheme to hang out with Jeff Goldblum.
Palmer has denied the claims that he's cloning actual dinosaurs (although he is building a Titanic and has lots of fossils, so we can hope), instead going for a park full of life-size animatronic dinosaurs, which probably is safer (right up until the moment their AI becomes self-aware, at which point two separate childhood dreams will come true at the same time). In March, Palmer ordered 100 robotic dinosaur replicas to stomp around and possibly chase fleeing Jeeps. This most recent shipment of dinos from China (where else?) will put the total around 160.
Dubbed the Palmer Coolum Resort Dinosaur Park, upon completion it will be the biggest dinosaur-themed park in the world. The dinos will do everything from swinging their tails to mimicking the breathing and blinking motions, which admittedly is not as cool as you might have been imagining. Still, if we were all honest with ourselves, if we had this much money, this would be at the top of our lists as well.
Presumably a line of functional Ghostbusters gear would be next on the list.
Work on installing the dinos is "well underway," as you can see from the picture. We're hoping for Palmer to carry things through to their logical conclusion and put dinosaurs on the Titanic II. You know it's just a matter of time.
Google Billionaires Want to Mine Asteroids
Space travel sadly turned out to be something of a passing fad -- we got all worked up about the moon landing and then quickly figured out there wasn't anything there. Let's face it: The reason America isn't full of people screaming for a manned trip to the stars is that space just doesn't seem to have anything useful. Well, if Google billionaires Larry Page and Eric Schmidt have their say (and they usually do), we're about to start plundering the living hell out of our solar system's vast trove of riches.
The market for gray dust could spike at any moment.
The dynamic duo, who collectively are worth about $33 billion, teamed up with filmmaker James Cameron and X-Prize founder (and possible Watchmen villain) Peter Diamandis to fund "a venture to survey and eventually extract" valuable minerals from asteroids that pass near the Earth. No strangers to thinking big (Page has been a driving force behind Google Glass, and Schmidt has been helping to launch Kenya, Africa, as a tech center similar to Silicon Valley), mining asteroids is just the latest in a string of interesting innovations.
Why mine precious metals? It's because precious metals are used in just about every technology we enjoy, and are also important accessories to even low-level hip-hop artists. Comets and meteors are full of these metals, as well as water, but the last time one of these space-banks paid us a visit, it added only a little bit of gold and water, and subtracted a whole lot of dinosaurs.
While no one attached to the project volunteered how much was invested, consider that they're ready to do this damn thing way sooner than NASA is. Led by Diamandis' organization, Planetary Resources, they're not only competing with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, they're beating them to the asteroids (although to NASA's credit, they did smash the ever-loving crap out of one with an aimed projectile). Their plan is to use robots for all the mining. A good idea, although imagine how much action one would get if "asteroid miner" was a human job.
"Did you ever see Deep Impact? Would you like to?"
Most interesting of all, this project is well along in development. It met its fundraising goal this summer and will kick off in late 2013 or early 2014, when Planetary Resources plans to launch a few Verne Troyer-size telescopes into orbit. These satellites will survey our immediate cosmic surroundings and catalog different pieces of space rock based on potential value. The probes will ascertain the components of asteroid belt objects so we can target the most metallurgically potent specimens. Water is equally important, as it can be turned into jet fuel upon separation of the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. Once extracted, this water can then be used to power other crafts, as they would be able to refuel at what would be the first ever gas station in space.
As demonstrated by this computer rendering of a tin can and a potato.
And while we're on the subject of rich people beating governments into space ...
Dennis Tito and Sergei Kostenko Are Making Space Tourism Real
Born in Queens, New York, billionaire Dennis Tito is what you'd call a "space enthusiast." How much of a space enthusiast? Enough of one to spend $20 million of his own money in 2001 to become the world's first space tourist.
Some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's $20 million.
His ticket price earned him a round trip to the International Space Station, and probably a free T-shirt. Since then there hasn't been much in the way of space-faring, and it's been an especially long time since anyone's been anywhere near the moon.
Well, Tito wants to see humans go back into space, and he's fricking tired of waiting. So he's going to fund the farthest expedition humans have ever attempted: He's planning a journey all the way to the red planet.
That's dangerous, though, because Mars is approximately 140 million miles from Earth, and Tito'll be damned if he's getting into that space capsule himself. No, instead he plans to send a couple, and he plans to do it on January 5, 2018. He's sending a couple because he says it most accurately represents humanity, although we think he just wants to watch people bang in space through well-hidden cameras.
"Camera? No, that measures ... space ... rays."
The date is incredibly important and non-negotiable, as it provides the most efficient trajectory to Mars due to the alignment of the planets. If the deadline isn't met, conditions won't be favorable again until 2031 (aka a year after NASA plans to launch its own Mars mission). So kudos to Tito for attempting to jump the gun on NASA by 13 years. The couple won't be able to land and make Mars-angels in the dirt, but they'll get to take the scenic route, as they'll be "slingshotted" around the spinning planet and hurled back toward Earth. The whole shebang will take exactly 501 days.
With the launch date locked in and basically immoveable, all that remains is to complete the fundraising on time and then design and build the entire flipping project. No worries, right? The project has its detractors, who wonder if the initiative will raise enough money (which is estimated at around $1 billion) and overcome technical problems such as the high radiation and the dangerous re-entry speed inherent with this type of trip.
Turns out space is a lot harsher than van murals would have us believe.
OK, so maybe these rich space enthusiasts need to think a bit smaller? That brings us to Sergei Kostenko.
Kostenko has been involved in the space tourism industry for several years and nowadays is the chief executive officer of Moscow-based Orbital Technologies. They, in association with the Russian space agency ROSCOSMOS, announced their intention to build a space hotel, and to do it soon -- the plan is that by 2016, you and up to seven of your closest friends will be able to take a real space-cation. After extensive training, of course -- you don't think they'd just let any chump off the street go up there on a whim, right?
A billion dollars' worth of technology and they still expect you to use your towel twice.
You'll be spending your vacation only 250 miles away, but it will seem much farther because those miles are straight up. At this point you've actually left the planet and therefore temporarily escaped gravity's dominion. Granted, it's not for the claustrophobic, as it's pretty much a one-bedroom, no-bath apartment. Oh, and you can stay as long as six months.
In the comfort of your very own supra-orbital, radiation-shielded womb.
Apart from a recent announcement about some organizational changes at Orbital Technologies, news of progress toward the 2016 completion date has been sparse since 2011 (so unlike Russia to keep secrets like this), but keep in mind, the Russian space program has sent at least seven people to the International Space Station as space tourists -- it really is just a matter of getting them their own room.
It is absolutely doable, so do it, crazy billionaires! What else are you good for?
Related Reading: These aren't the only sci-fi projects getting close to fruition- the freeze ray is totally real. And app scientists are close to a breakthrough that will allow your phone to smell and see disease. If your tastes in sci-fi are more modern and crappy, you'll be glad to know the army is working on making Avatar happen.