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Daylight jetlag

12.03.2013 Leave a comment

Daylight saving is a popular topic these days. There is no proof that daylight saving really helps with anything nor that it has ever helped save energy. Yet all who live in daylight saving zones have to suffer from it.

The result of moving clocks one hour backward or forward is that most people experience a jetlag-like effect, because their rhythm has to suddenly change. So during the spring daylight saving event many people feel tired for a few days before they adjust.

Perhaps it’s time for legislators around the world to stop this madness?

Categories: Universe

The end of “Made in China”

18.01.2013 Leave a comment

We may be on the brink on the next industrial revolution. One company is trying to introduce robots in manufacturing. So far this has been the domain of cheap workforce in China. But this robot costs as much as a small car and can work without breaks for long periods of time. Some estimates suggests this robot’s cost could be as low as $1 for an hour of its work, or less.

In the coming years, these robots will get cheaper, smarter and more reliable, reducing the cost of manufacturing even more and making them usable in other areas. Soon many products will be assembled locally, so they will become cheaper not only because making them will be cheaper, but also the shipping costs will become lower.

Categories: Universe

Industrial revolutions

27.12.2012 Leave a comment

Paul Krugman discusses Bob Gordon’s essay in which Gordon describes three industrial revolutions humanity went through in the last few hundred years. Gordon suggests we’re at the end of the third industrial revolution and the fourth one is awaiting us in the coming decades. The suggested fourth industrial revolution will introduce robots in manufacturing and millions of people will lose their jobs. All the money from the lost jobs will go to the rich who will own the robots.

In my opinion bunching various inventions together into distinct industrial revolutions is too broad of a generalization. Certain inventions did influence quality of our lives, such as hygiene, tap water or vaccines. Other inventions changed the way we travel, such as steam engine or jet engine. But all of the minor “revolutions” overlapped and we can’t just draw a straight line between them.

The suggested future, the one which is coming very fast, in which robots will take over manufacturing, is not that dark at all. Major manufacturers in the US are already planning bringing manufacturing back to the States by creating factories full of robots, which are cheaper even than the proverbial Chinese worker. More and more people will be losing their jobs, but an economy in which everything is dirt cheap but nobody has money to buy it is not going to be sustainable. Eventually tax and social laws will change, even in the US – although it’s hard to imagine for most Americans, the US will have to be come more like Europe – and taxes on manufactured products will increase while income taxes will decrease. In fact people will be paid money just for living in a country or state and the money will come from taxes on manufacturing.

In my previous post I contemplated the future of humanity. There is still a lot of inventions on the way before we get there. The inventions which we can already predict include:

  • Robots – used more and more at factories, stores and eventually in homes.
  • 3D printers – everybody will be able to download plans from the Internet and make their own goods at home.
  • Nanotechnology – from health through manufacturing through new kinds of materials, etc. – it will improve every aspect of our lives.
  • Brain engineering – will help us transcend our biological bodies and become interstellar beings.

There is probably a lot more of exciting and significant inventions awaiting us, of which we can’t even think yet, just like the Internet surprised everybody and was not broadly predicted.

Categories: Universe

Dwarf galaxies

15.12.2012 1 comment

I recently read that our humongous Galaxy was probably small in the beginning, but in time it accumulated stars by colliding with other galaxies. This conclusion was drawn from the fact that the outskirts of our Galaxy are composed of very old stars, which have the same composition as stars in dwarf galaxies. Our Galaxy is surrounded by lots of dwarf galaxies, we’ve just started discovering them. There’s at least 30 bright dwarf galaxies in our neighborhood which we already know and many dim ones are probably lurking in our vicinity. These dwarf galaxies contain very old stars, judging by their composition – these stars are very poor in chemical elements heavier than lithium, so they must originate from times when there was very little heavier elements in the Universe, or none at all. It turns out that the stars in the outskirts of our galaxy carry similar spectral signature.

From this I drew two conclusions.

Where to search for life

First of all there is very little sense in looking for life in dwarf galaxies or in the outskirts of our Galaxy, or any other behemoth. The areas which are poor in heavier elements are likely to have low probability in harboring life, because of the deficiency of the needed chemical elements. So the best place to start the search for other life forms is in the richer areas of big galaxies such as ours, or the Andromeda Galaxy which we are going to collide with in a few billion years.

This reasoning may be flawed. I am yet undereducated in the topic of how stars are forming. My guess is that the light gas contracts easier than heavier elements, which instead form clumps around the forming star and turn into planets after a few million years after they sweep all the dust in their orbits.

On the other hand I suspect that the more adventurous places of space are better for evolution. Our spiral Galaxy is thought to be moving its “top” side forward and our star is oscillating between the “bottom” and the “top” in cycles of around 70-90 million years. Whenever our solar system is near the “top”, it is exposed to the influence of the intergalactic medium. This probably induces recurring cataclysmic events, such as the big extinction event 65 million years ago. After every such event the conditions on our planet change significantly and wake up the evolution. Let’s put it this way: the dinosaurs dominated on Earth for about 135 million years and didn’t accomplish much. We, mammals, accomplished much more in only 65 million years after we’ve been given a chance after some rock leveled the evolution’s playing field. Similar cataclysmic events may have triggered the plants and animals moving out of the water to conquer the land and who knows what else.

If you look at the dwarf galaxies, they are dull. They have survived probably 10 or more billion years and remember the times when the Universe was poor in elements needed for life. If they were off to an adventure, they would have already merged with some big galaxy or became one on their own. No, they are small and full of old stars.

I am not claiming that there can’t be any life in these areas where old stars live, but the odds for life are much better in the rich parts of big galaxies.

Locality

The other conclusion I drew from the article is that all we have in our Galaxy and the surrounding galaxies has always been here. In the beginning when our area of the Universe formed it was filled with gas. The gas contracted into lots of small galaxies. These galaxies started merging. Two of them started consuming others and became behemoths – our Galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy. The rest remained small and is probably slowly rotating around the center of our local cluster, which lies in the middle between the two behemoths. I suspect that all the material in our local cluster is the same as it was in the beginning. There was no or little exchange of material with other clusters. We could consider Andromeda as well as all our local dwarfs our siblings.

Not that it matters, the composition of stars in other clusters probably follows very similar patterns. We will eventually start exploring these too and know more about them. But I suspect the only way for galaxy clusters to exchange material is through civilizations capable of intergalactic travel.

Categories: Universe

Global warming

10.12.2012 Leave a comment

We may be in for a ride, bigger and sooner than we thought.

2012 was not the year the world ended as predicted by those who did not know how to interpret the Mayan calendar, but there were a couple of disturbing climate changes. The most recent data suggests that there is a lot of carbon locked in the permafrost – more than scientists estimated so far. Let’s add to this that this year more ice melted in the far north and in the Arctic ocean than ever before (well, at least in the last few hundred years).

Maybe next year, maybe in a few years during summer on the northern hemisphere more ice will melt and the carbon will be released in the form of carbon dioxide and further accelerate global warming.

The recent climate hiccups are the result of the climate being knocked out off an equilibrium. Even before, the climate was getting a little bit warmer year to year, but it was slow and gradual. Many people remember snow on Christmas in the 1980s. Then came the 1990s and there was barely a few days of snow in the winter. In the recent years winters are either mild or strong. Summers are either very hot or mild or rainy. Similar thing is happening to El Nino – it’s accelerating and gaining on strength. This is because the global warming is accelerating and the global climate is unable to keep up resulting in hiccups.

Given what happened this year and what we’ve learned, the global warming is probably going to kick up a notch, more than we anticipated. In the next 10-20 years we will see the global temperature increase a few degrees centigrade and the sea level rise.

Rising sea level is of course bad for many people, because a large amount of world’s population is living close to the sea shore. My advice is, if you are planning to buy a house by the sea, don’t. If you live by the sea, sell the house and move inland, otherwise you will lose it. The rising sea level will cause massive losses and will impact global economy. It may result in a global crisis worse than the one which started in 2008.

It’s difficult to tell when it’s a good time to start preparing, but weather and climate are ones of those things which are super difficult to predict.

Categories: Universe

The Universe is taming with life

8.12.2012 Leave a comment

For decades we’ve been wondering if there are other planets out there, let alone other life.

Finally there is some positive research which concludes that our solar system is not exceptional. In fact, other nearby systems may have better conditions for life than ours!

There are 8 planets in our system, 3 moons which can rival Mercury in size, plus several other sizable moons. You could say that our planetary system is rich in celestial bodies. At least three planets in our solar system could harbor life – Venus (if not the acid), Earth (well, there is life on it) and Mars (eventually we’re going to find out if there’s life on it or was in the past). Some moons of Jupiter and Saturn could also potentially host primitive microbial life. So many opportunities in one planetary system!

There’s nothing special about our star. Probably many if not most stars have rich planetary systems. For more than a decade we’ve been detecting new planets around other stars, there are already hundreds of planets known and most of them are even bigger than Jupiter. Big planets tend to have many moons – more opportunities for life even if the big planets are far from the star.

The article suggests that the habitable zone around many stars may be even bigger than around our star.

The conclusion – the Universe must be taming with life. Of course intelligent life is another story as it needs hundreds of millions of years to evolve from primordial soup.

Categories: Universe

The future of the human race

7.12.2012 2 comments

In his recent post, Scott Adams envisions that just like in popular literature and movies, we will create a race of robots, which will eventually seek to destroy us. Then another race of half-robots-half-humans will come to existence and save humanity.

I do not fully agree with his prediction, but there is a little merit to it. Let me explain what my stance is.

You may disagree with what I am going to write and that’s understandable. The idea of annihilation by AI or robots is well-known and scary to most people. Yet I do not think that we are in danger, but rather that great opportunities lay ahead of us.

Human brain is a wonderful and quite complicated computing device. In the years to come we will get to know it much better and eventually we will figure out how it works, even though today our knowledge of its workings is very limited. Recently I’ve read an article about new discoveries how the neural networks in our brain work. What makes it so fault tolerant is that when single neurons fire, they are ignored. Moreover many neurons can randomly fire and nothing happens. But when information is incoming on the input receptors, such as eyes, ears or skin, all relevant neurons fire simultaneously and carry the information through the network like a wave. This is when the information processing and thought processes occur.

With further advances in nanotechnology and better understanding of the brain we will eventually be able to create brain prosthetics, implants and eventually convert a brain into a non-biological device. The procedure will probably consist of injecting nanobots into the blood stream. The tiny devices will reach the brain and will start replacing neurons with artificial devices. It is also possible that an implant could be installed under the skull and perform the procedure, but injection of nanobots will certainly be less invasive and injecting nanobots into the bloodstream to repair the body, perform medical procedures and diagnostics will likely be common by that time.

Eventually the brain will be fully converted into a non-biological device. It will still be connected to the rest of the body, all the inputs and outputs. It may still be taking energy from the bloodstream or heat, or a new infrastructure will be installed to power it. Possibilities for powering the artificial brain will be many.

The artificial brain will be much better in many aspects than a biological one. It will need less energy, so it will be more efficient, it will be much faster and it will not be susceptible to natural death. A person with an artificial brain will initially be the same as before, will think the same, will have the same personality, the same memories and feelings. It will be exactly the same person.

After a short period of time a person with an artificial brain will see significant improvements in the perception of the world, thinking processes, etc. The brain will adapt to its new capabilities. This process will have to be guided by a psychologist, because the person will become super smart over a few days, so the process of becoming a new being will be difficult and may lead to a collapse if not carefully controlled.

Having an artificial brain will open endless possibilities. A new engineering field will open up – brain programming. New programs will be created for artificial brains, programs which will enhance the owners of the brains immensely with mental abilities we can’t yet imagine. Of course the term programs may not be appropriate, since a brain is a mix of hardware and software.

At this point computers as we know will seize to exist. Nobody will use laptops and smartphones. There will be no need. Such primitive computing functionality will be easy to integrate directly with the brain and it may even happen before artificial brains are invented in the form of implants. This will also open a serious problem of brain hacking. To mitigate it, connectivity will be limited only to certain parts of the brain and special programs will run continuously to detect and shut off or reprogram compromised parts.

Learning will not be an issue anymore and will be effortless. It will be easy to store Wikipedia and beyond in the brain by just downloading the content directly to memory.

The size of the brain will be substantially reduced keeping the same functionality. Normally we don’t use all parts the brain, they are idle. Therefore it makes a lot of sense to compress and shut down the unused parts or programs of the brain. This will be easy with artificial brains. A brain of the size of a mouse’s will be no worse than a brain of an adult human. The added benefit of a small brain is that it requires less energy.

Mental abilities aside, it will be possible to swap bodies. Because the brain will now be artificial and will not rely on body chemistry, it will be simple to disconnect it and connect it to and artificial body instead. Some people may choose to freeze their original bodies, or simply leave certain portions of the brain which control the autonomous systems in the body. They will wear their artificial body to work and in the evening swap for the biological body to enjoy life.

Connecting brain with an artificial body will initially be difficult, due to the fact how the brain is wired. Our brain is used to the nerve system in our bodies, disconnecting it and connecting different kinds of inputs and outputs may result in a shock. Eventually programs will be created which will make this easy and it will just feel normal.

Having both and artificial brain and body will open new possibilities to us. Any kind of work will be possible. We will be able to live and thrive in any place of the world. We will be able to live in the depths of the oceans as well as the deserts and poles. Poverty and famine will disappear.

Artificial brains and bodies can be charged directly from the Sun. Notice that today we also take most of our energy from the Sun: we eat plants which take energy from the Sun, we eat animals who also eventually take their energy from the Sun just like us. We power our devices from the Sun as well – energy stored in coal and oil also originates from the Sun. According to Wikipedia typical efficiency of photosynthesis 3 to 6%. We will make it 30-50%. The skin on the artificial bodies will be able to extract energy directly from light. It will be sufficient to just stand in front of the Sun with open arms for 15 minutes a day – plenty of time to meditate or rest.

The sleep is an important piece of data acquisition. During sleep our brains sort the information and help us memorize what we learned during the day. Artificial brains will sleep as well, but they may as well sleep when we are performing other tasks. For example it will be possible to go to work and perform manual, repetitive labor while the part of the brain responsible for memory will be sleeping. Or we will just sleep when charging.

Ultimately we will be able to travel in space with unlimited acceleration and for unlimited periods of time. Artificial brains can be shut down for a very long time to avoid dying from boredom. Just like hibernation, but very easy to achieve. Artificial bodies will be crucial in going beyond the solar system. Biological bodies require very expensive and complicated life support systems, which are heavy and have a lot of mass, so require a lot of energy to accelerate them. The total mass needed to travel in space for biological beings is huge. Additional mass is needed for protection from radiation. Even more mass is needed to keep the bodies in shape, even if hibernation technology is invented. Even if all that extra mass was not necessary bodies are not able to withstand acceleration exceeding a few g. Therefore traveling in space is economically infeasible for biological species.

But artificial brains and bodies do not have these limitations. In fact a spaceship will be small, it may as well fit in a pocket. Thanks to brain compression technology a traveller will insert his compressed brain into the starship along with nanobots needed to rebuild the body at the destination. A small spaceship will not require as much energy to move and can accelerate very quickly. Traveling to distant stars an even galaxies will not be an issue. It will be as easy as downloading the plans of the spaceship from the Internet, building it with your own nanobots which are in the body and bon voyage!

The creatures with artificial brains and bodies will still be us, it will be our grandsons and granddaughters. However they will no longer be humans. They will be a new species, born on Earth, just like we are the children of this planet. Their goal will not be to annihilate us, just like it’s not our goal to destroy the life on Earth. They will look into the future and into the stars, they will be discoverers, thinkers and pilgrims. They will carry their legacy to other civilizations and join them in exploring the Universe.

Given the rapid evolution of our technology over the past few hundred years it is likely that this will happen soon. The pace of innovation is accelerating, more countries like India and China are helping us push science forward.

Likely it takes about a few thousand years for a civilization since the invention of basic technology and science to advance to the point at which they can turn themselves into a new species, leave their planet and explore the Universe. It’s a big jump and in the history of a planet it does not take long, but it takes a long time for evolution to get to this point.

Probably the Universe abounds with advanced civilizations. Sometimes species evolves far enough to create a civilization. Once this happens, it takes a few thousand years to become the citizens of the Universe. There are no limits how artificial bodies look and work, so they are very diverse, but in principle all intelligent species look the same regardless on which world they evolved. I suspect they mix their technologies and eventually you cannot tell where they originate from, it does not matter anymore which planet their ancestors came from. Just like today humans mix and especially in Western countries people have ancestors from all over the world.

We’re constantly asking ourselves if there are other civilizations. We’re trying to search for them. But it makes no sense, the probability of finding a civilization on the same level of advancement as ours is very, very low, because all civilizations quickly evolve into interstellar, non-biological beings. Likely these civilizations do not want to contact us just to see how we evolve and they give us the opportunity to get there on our own. These explorers may be sitting around for millennia undetected enjoying the history of our planet. Or maybe they are just coming by from time to time just for fun, visiting various distant worlds.

The idea of dropping biological brains and bodies may sound disgusting or mind boggling to you today. But the change will be gradual and will take many years. People will start switching to become better, smarter, less reliant on biological bodies, or perhaps just because its cool and interesting. Eventually there will be fewer and fewer people with biological brains. The sociology will come into play and those who don’t switch will be treated as stupid and old-fashioned. It will be OK to have a biological brain. It is unlikely that there will be wars because of this, wars do not make any sense and people with artificial brains will be intelligent enough to think of better things. People which will choose to keep their biological brains will use the technology to extend their bodies anyway, just like about everybody today has a cell phone. Children of people with biological brains will be more eager to switch though. Eventually all people with biological brains will die out. It may take a few hundred of years, but the new species will eventually supersede and replace humans.

Do not be afraid. The future awaits.

Categories: Universe

Milky Way

2.12.2012 Leave a comment

As you are probably aware, the name of our Galaxy to which our star belongs is Milky Way. Now step back and think for a moment. We named our Galaxy after the white fluid all mammals crave and enjoy, the fluid which comes from all mammals’ mothers’ breasts. We, mammals, like this life bringing beverage so much, that we’ve decided to name the bright stripe of stars which cuts through the midnight sky after it. I am sure that if another civilization was studying us, they would certainly find it at least curious, probably even hilarious.

If the dinosaurs managed to develop higher intelligence, how would they name it? How can other civilizations be naming it, assuming many of them don’t know the taste of milk?

Categories: Universe

Interstellar travel

26.11.2012 1 comment

Imagine an expedition to the center of our Galaxy, which is about 27,000 light years away. It takes the light from the center of our Galaxy 27,000 years to reach Earth. In the year 2100 young, 25-year old astronauts would board a new kind of interstellar spaceship. The ship would start accelerating at 1g and keep accelerating for 10 years. Due to the constant acceleration of 1g, the astronauts would feel the same as on the surface of Earth. After 10 years have passed, the ship would turn around and start decelerating. After another 10 years it would stop decelerating and arrive at the center of our Galaxy. It would take 20 years total to get there. After gathering scientific data and refueling their spaceship, the astronauts would return to Earth to retire. The trip back would take them another 20 years.

The problem is that the Special Relativity Theory would come into play. For the astronauts only 40 years would pass. During this time they would travel a distance of roughly 55,000 light years. However on Earth, roughly 58,000 years would pass. If they left in the year 2100, they would return in the year 60,100! This would be the result of time dilation.

A drive capable of accelerating constantly for 20 years would be the peak of conventional space drive technology. It would not make any sense to make more powerful drives, because it would be hard for humans to live in higher artificial gravity conditions for so long.

In my opinion such trip would not make much sense. The humans left on Earth would have thousands of years to develop better technology and get to the destination before the conventional space ship. Developments in artificial intelligence could lead to smarter machines which would help us better understand physics, ultimately leading to the development of drives such as the Alcubierre drive and the like. Today we think such breakthroughs are impossible and the Special Relativity Theory forbids anything, including information, to get to distant places faster than the speed of light. Still there is yet so much we don’t know about physics and our Universe…

Categories: Universe

More on the shape of the Universe

11.10.2012 Leave a comment

I one of my previous posts I postulated that the Universe does not have a 3-dimensional shape, but rather is interconnected with itself in all directions as if it was the surface of a 4-dimensional sphere. The more I think of it, the more it makes sense.

Many people believe that the Universe looks like a three-dimensional, expanding sphere. Before the Big Bang (or Big Bounce) the Universe was all in one spot, then suddenly it started expanding. The problem with this is that this indicates that there is an expanding boundary of the Universe, a shock wave, and that there is an edge. This creates a problem of what lies beyond this boundary. Also the conditions at the boundary would have to be different from conditions deep inside of the Universe, due to the interaction with the outside. I wonder what effect would gravity have on the outlying galaxies. One could argue that since the speed of the expansion is greater than the speed of light or gravitational waves, there would be no difference.

The speed of the expansion of the universe has been reaffirmed in a recent study to be about 73km/s per megaparsec. The farther the object from an observer, the quicker it is escaping. So objects which are two megaparsecs from are escaping at 145km/s from the observer. One could argue that because of this it is not possible to see what is outside of the universe, because to get there one would have to travel faster than light. If the Universe was a three-dimensional sphere, there would be galaxies very close to the boundary. An observer from such galaxy could potentially reach the edge of the Universe without exceeding the speed of light and see what’s outside. Unless the laws of physics were different at the edge of the Universe and for example expansion was faster over there. But so far we found no such evidence and the escape velocity seems to be proportional to the distance from us.

However if the Universe is “closed” and has no edge, no single most outlying point, then nothing can escape from it, there is no energy sink. There is no place in the Universe where one could exit it using conventional means and see it from the outside. There is no outside. This is mind-boggling, but I think it has more sense because it avoids the problem of an infinite space outside of the Universe and possible conditions outside.

Again, in a “closed” Universe one could potentially travel in any given direction in three dimensions in a straight line and would ultimately arrive back at the starting location. In practice, however, this is not testable, because the escape velocity of more distant objects is greater than the speed of light. In fact we can’t even see the entire Universe, we can only see a portion of it, so we can’t even see Earth from very distant times. At least that’s what we think…

Categories: Universe