We can start with a loose definition of flight. While no two bird scientists or philosophers can agree on the specifics, there is still a common, intuitive understanding of what true flight is: powered, feathered locomotion through the air through the use of flapping wings. While other flight-like phenomena exist in nature (via bats and insects), no bird with even a reasonable education would consider these creatures true fliers, as they lack one or more key elements. And, while some birds are unfortunately born handicapped (penguins, ostriches, etc.), they still possess the (albeit undeveloped) gene for flight, and it is indeed flight that defines the modern bird.Artificial Flight and Other Myths (a reasoned examination of A.F. by top birds) (via Futurismic)
This is flight in the natural world, the product of millions of years of evolution, and not a phenomenon easily replicated. Current A.F. is limited to unpowered gliding; a technical marvel, but nowhere near the sophistication of a bird. Gliding simplifies our lives, and no bird (including myself) would discourage advancing this field, but it is a far cry from synthesizing the millions of cells within the wing alone to achieve Strong A.F. Strong A.F., as it is defined by researchers, is any artificial flier that is capable of passing the Tern Test (developed by A.F. pioneer Alan Tern), which involves convincing an average bird that the artificial flier is in fact a flying bird.
(Image: Anna's Hummingbird in Flight, a Creative Commons Attribution photo from Noël Zia Lee's photostream)
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I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.