The universe is not only strange but stranger than we can imagine

Science Snaps

All I want for Christmas is a mind-controlled racing set

Just when you thought it couldn’t get much weirder — sure enough, it does.  Just before Christmas this past year, a team of researchers from the UK’s University of Warwick announced it had  refined the technology used to control electronic devices using thought alone. “Whilst brain-computer interfaces already exist – there are already a few gaming headsets on the market – their functionality has been quite limited,” said Professor Christopher James, Director of Warwick Engineering in Biomedicine at the School of Engineering.

His team’s research is helping these  headsets function more efficiently by obtaining cleaner and stronger signals than ever before. “This means stronger links to the toy, game or action thus making it a very immersive experience,” he adds. “The exciting bit is what comes next –how long before we start unlocking the front door or answering the phone through brain-computer interfaces?”

Artificial Intelligence — coming our way fast

(NOTE: links open in new windows)

“Open the pod bay door HAL.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave.”


It’s funny how new technology, even the most life-altering technology creeps almost imperceptibly into our lives –until suddenly it’s everywhere. Such seems to be the case with Artificial Intelligence (AI).  When 2001, A Space Odyssey, first appeared in theatres, “HAL,” the murderous AI, seemed about as farfetched as flying saucers or time travel — maybe even more so. No longer.

The advent of beings very similar to HAL (although hopefully not as malevolent), seems to be only a matter of time. Already we are seeing self-driving cars, AI-based robots that interact with Alzheimer’s patients and even lawyers (members of one of the most conservative professions) discussing how AI will affect the legal profession.  While estimates of when “true AI” as defined by the Turing Test will actually arrive,  it seems certain that the day is coming. En route, we need to prepare ourselves for the massive re-thinking of virtually all familiar aspects of life that AI is bringing, from its effects on employment opportunities  (already discernible) to more fundamental questions about the nature of consciousness and of “life” itself.




Working “transporter” beams photons miles away

transporterScotty, have you been drinking again?

No, it’s true. Scientists have succeeded in sending entangled photons to different locations miles apart and then reuniting them.  “So what?” you might say. Well, this apparently is a small step towards being able to communicate information very quickly, using the quantum states of subatomic particles as “messengers.” It seems to also be one of the first times that actual particles — photons in this case – have been “teleported” over a distance. Confused yet?  Wikipedia to the rescue:

Quantum teleportation is a process by which quantum information (e.g. the exact state of an atom or photon) can be transmitted (exactly, in principle) from one location to another, with the help of classical communication and previously shared quantum entanglement between the sending and receiving location. Because it depends on classical communication, which can proceed no faster than the speed of light, it cannot be used for faster-than-light transport or communication of classical bits. While it has proven possible to teleport one or more qubits of information between two (entangled) atoms,[1][2][3] this has not yet been achieved between molecules or anything larger.

Although the name is inspired by the teleportation commonly used in fiction, there is no relationship outside the name, because quantum teleportation concerns only the transfer of information. Quantum teleportation is not a form of transportation, but of communication; it provides a way of transporting a qubit from one location to another, without having to move a physical particle along with it. However, quantum teleportation of particles has been theorized to also be possible, and to perhaps be an explanation for the teleportation-like effects seen in superconductivity and superfluidity.[4]

Although this experiment may (or may not) have moved the possibility of quantum teleportation slightly closer, it will likely be a very long time before we are beaming ourselves to parties, concerts or other planets. For the foreseeable future, we are stuck with planes, trains and automobiles.  And of course, spaceships. (Go Elon!)

Photo source: Working Transporter Beams Photons Under Four Miles Away | Digital Trends

Heading off collision with asteroid


It’s a heck of a good idea! Taking out asteroid avoidance insurance is one thing we humans really ought to do if we don’t want to end up like the previous tenants of Planet Earth,  AKA our pals the dinosaurs. An asteroid known as Bennu is headed our way, and will cross very close to us in 2035. At 500 metres across, it is smaller than the asteroid which did for the dinosaurs, but if it hit Earth, we would surely get our hair mussed, in the immortal phrase of General Jack D. Ripper of Dr. Strangelove fame. Many millions would be killed outright, and the consequences for the environment are incalculable.

At the moment, Bennu is supposed to miss us by a narrow margin — but it sure would be nice to have Plan B ready, in case something changes in the meantime.

NASA launches mission to study massive asteroid in hopes of preventing catastrophic collision in 2035 | National Post

The problem with warp drive…

Starship ENterpriseThis is too funny, in a sad way maybe. We might be able to get to distant planets with FTL travel, but we may destroy them when we arrive.  NASA is apparently playing with a form of warp drive known as Alcubierre drive (after its inventor, Mexican theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre) The drive works, according to Wikipedia, “by contracting space in front of it and expanding space behind it, resulting in effective faster-than-light travel.” (Got that?)

The problem is, on decelerating from its space/time bubble, the spacecraft may (or may not) destroy everything around it.  The end result — you get to your interstellar destination, but destroy it on arrival. Aaurgh! Keep thinking guys!

Robotic boy helps treatment of Alzheimer’s patients

Truly, we are living in a science-fiction world. And this is only the start. This robot has crude AI capabilities — imagine what the fourth or fifth generation of “Ludwig” may be like. At the same time, consider that many Ludwigs will take the place of flesh-and-blood people. We already see this with the advent of such widespread technology as the humble ATM.

This tech-driven displacement is going to continue and widen. Where will the displaced men and women go, how will they make a living? Not everyone can be an AI developer or robot repair expert. So? The question should be carefully pondered by those who care about society a decade or two, or three down the road. This proviso automatically excluded most career politicians and corporate leaders — fresh reason for concern.

The 60-cm-high mechanical boy can talk and move to keep patients socially engage.

Ludwig has a mission — to help patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Ludwig is also a robot.

The 60-cm-high mechanical boy can talk and move to keep patients socially engage.

His real job is to monitor the patient’s speech and cognitive patterns, and report on any declining conditions.

Read more: Robotic boy helps treatment of Alzheimer’s patients | Toronto & GTA | News | Tor

Arctic Mammoth Killed By Humans 45,000 Years Ago

This find pushed the date for human exploration of the Arctic back by 10,000 years. Apparently our distant ancestors were both clever and hardy enough to survive in the high Arctic as much as 45,000 years ago –long, long before Canada Goose coats and long underwear.

Mammoth specimens have been found in such good condition, thanks to the deep freeze that preserved their bodies, that some scientists speculate it may one day be possible to “resurrect” the species using preserved DNA.

“Analysis of the remains of a mammoth discovered in 2012 just 1,250 miles from the North Pole has revealed it was slain by human hands 45,000 years in the past. The extreme age of the remains – and the fact that they bear the telltale marks of being killed by human hunters using crude spears  – has turned the archaeological community on its ear.”

Source: Arctic Mammoth Killed By Humans 45,000 Years Ago

Plastic grass could cover buildings to produce energy from wind

Bendy plastic strips generate power as they flail in the wind, harvesting energy for the home where wind turbines are impractical


“The answer , my friend, is blowing in the wind.” Well, maybe not quite the way Bob Dylan had in mind, but still…

Right now we apparently have “too much oil,” at least in the short term. But in the long run, and for many reasons (pollution, finite supplies, political considerations), we need to get away from fossil fuels. What better solution than harnessing the energy of the wind? But acres and acres of huge eggbeaters flailing against the sky and whacking any birds unfortunate enough to come into range, are not an ideal answer. How about if wind power could be harvested unobtrusively? Enter this great idea — tiny strips of artificial grass, each harnessing a tiny amount of the wind’s energy as they bend and sway in the breeze.

It’s a lovely solution — neat, localized, wildlife friendly, non-polluting… As long as your goats don’t try grazing, you’re energy self sufficient. Too cool

Source: Plastic grass could cover buildings to produce energy from wind | New Scientist

Europe to build base on MOON by 2030 using 3D printer

The futuristic settlement would most likely be located on the rim of Shackelton crater, with robots laying the groundwork for humans to move in

Oh please, make it so! We so desperately need to take that next “step further out.” It is hard to believe that no human has been back to the Moon in nearly half a century. We were there, the future was in our grasp — and we let it go. Yes, there are troubles and things that need to be done on Earth, yes, there is no sure guarantee of short-term payback for space exploration. And yes, we absolutely have to explore space if we are to survive and prosper as a race. Maybe the time and the technology are finally right for a return to the “High Frontier.” Outward ho!

Source: Europe to build base on MOON by 2030 using 3D printer – Mirror Online



The mystery of the GIANT SEA SPIDERS emerging in Antarctica baffle scientists

In the dark, cold depths of the polar oceans lurk the creatures of your nightmares. Huge ‘sea spiders’ in the Arctic and Southern Oceans grow bigger in these regions than anywhere else.

Well, they are ugly devils to be sure, and we can all be happy they live deep in the Arctic Ocean rather than under the bed. However, their disturbing size may not be as much of a mystery as the newspaper headline suggests. According to the Daily Mail article, these critters have slow metabolisms and live in oxygen-rich waters  — facts which probably help explain why they are so seriously bulked up. Much as it would be fun to discover that the spiders owed their stature to, let’s say, radiation from a wrecked flying saucer or a fiendish experiment by a local mad scientist, the explanation may be much more mundane — a superabundance of good old O2 and a sluggish, cold-water constitution.

Source: The mystery of the GIANT SEA SPIDERS emerging in Antarctica baffle scientists | Daily Mail Online

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