All right, this is going to get a bit dense and weird, as we glimpse discussions of time travel. But first… a string of wonderfully interesting bits of science news!
== Is each neuron a quantum computer? ==
The recent discovery of quantum vibrations in microtubules inside brain neurons appears to corroborate claims that consciousness derives from deeper-level, finer-scale activities inside brain neurons. The eminent mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose in the 1990s suggested that quantum vibrational computations in microtubules were “orchestrated” (“Orch”) by synaptic inputs and memory stored in microtubules. They may be the seat of stored information that neurons (and glia exchanges) intermediate. Moreover, in a new development it is thought that Microtubule quantum vibrations (e.g. in the megahertz frequency range) appear to interfere and produce much slower EEG “beat frequencies.”
A lead author suggests “Consciousness depends on anharmonic vibrations of microtubules inside neurons, similar to certain kinds of Indian music, but unlike Western music, which is harmonic.” How cool and weird! Only I am less interested in the mystical implications about roots of consciousness than whether this nails in “intracellular computing” as a major part of brain function.
If so, then that boosts by many orders of magnitude how many transactions take place to comprise our minds. And many more Moore’s Law doublings will be needed before that number can be replicated, in silicon.
Is that good news or bad news? Will this delay the arrival of friendly machines who will solve our problems and help us become better, too? Or will it save us from the imminent arrival of Terminator/Skynet, giving us time to ponder how to do these things right, as Max Tegmark proposes?
Tradeoffs that are discussed in this new book, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. And, of course, well… I explore them pretty extensively, too.
== Why Glass is so limited? ==
What are the design tradeoffs in delivering actual immersive augmented reality glasses, of the sort I called “tru-vu goggles” in EARTH (1989)? Google Glass finesses the problem with a very narrow angle of view, offset from straight-ahead. In this article you can see some of the problems… and how a new company has come up with clever ways to solve them.
At Google last week, I described to Head of Research Peter Norvig the reasons why I thought Google was keeping Glass simple, and not covering the user’s visual field, or offering face recog features. He said yep. The company with big pockets cannot afford to be the first to offer full Augmented Reality. Not when the first ten years will be (as I describe in fiction) filled with accidents and lawsuits.
== What I learned while visiting tomorrow ==
All right then… David Deutsch, a pioneer of quantum computing and a physicist at Oxford — as well as the author of The Beginning of Infinity — came up with a simplified model of time travel to deal with the Grandfather paradox*. He solved the paradox originally using a slight change to quantum theory, proposing that you could change the past as long as you did so in a self-consistent manner.
“Meaning that, if you kill your grandfather, you do it with only probability one-half,” said PRL co-author Mark Wilde, an LSU assistant professor. “Then, he’s dead with probability one-half, and you are not born with probability one-half, but the opposite is a fair chance. You could have existed with probability one-half to go back and kill your grandfather.”
The original article cited here maintains that, to be consistent with Deutsch’s model, which holds that you can only change the past as long as you can do it in a self-consistent manner, Wilde and colleagues had to come up with a solution that would allow for a looping curve back in time, and copying of quantum data based on a time traveling particle, without disturbing the past.
“That was the major breakthrough, to figure out what could happen at the beginning of this time loop to enable us to effectively read out many copies of the data without disturbing the past,” Wilde said. “It just worked.”
“If an adversary, if a malicious person, were to have access to these time loops, then they could break the security of quantum key distribution,” Wilde said. “That’s one way of interpreting it. But it’s a very strong practical implication because the big push of quantum communication is this secure way of communicating. We believe that this is the strongest form of encryption that is out there because it’s based on physical principles.”Such encryption is believed to be unbreakable — that is, as long as hackers don’t have access to Wilde’s looping closed timelike curves.
=== So? Are we being visited from the future? ===
In a recent paper, Robert J. Nemiroff and Teresa Wilson, suggest that we actually search for time travelers… via Internet searches, by seeking a prescient mention of information not previously available. Their first search covered prescient content placed on the Internet, highlighted by a comprehensive search for specific terms in tweets on Twitter. The second search examined prescient inquiries submitted to a search engine. Whereupon, lo and behold… “no time travelers were discovered.” Although these negative results do not disprove time travel, given the great reach of the Internet, this search is perhaps the most comprehensive to date.
Well, well, didn’t the authors kind of assume that the time travelers either want to be found or else that – when back home in the future – they failed to do a web search for traps like the one laid by Nemiroff and Wilson?
It reminds me of the “Invitation to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligences” that was issued on the internet by the late professor Allan Tough, who felt certain that mechanical envoy-lurkers — waiting in the asteroid belt for millions of years — had already inveigled their way into our networks to read our web pages. (And much more? Are there NSAliens out there?) Further that they were only awaiting an invitation to speak up and announce themselves. Allan was brave enough to invite me to post my own variant (deviant?) invitation… or else decryption of why lurkers might refrain and just keep lurking.
All the same logics apply to time travelers, I’m afraid. Oh, that invitation of mine to lurkers? It became a number of chapters in Existence!
For an exploration of time travel scenarios in science fiction, see a list of Time Travel in Fiction, or the more recent anthology The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF, with short stories by Silverberg, Rusch, Levinson, Swanwick, Priest and others.
== And finally ==
Two newly discovered species of spider — in far-apart Peru and the Philippines — make decoy spiders to place on their webs, each one about the size of a half-dollar, constructed from debris and food carcasses, with eight legs radiating from its bulky center. The tiny sculptor dwells inside her creation.
Batteries will be vital in the new world of dispersed and sustainable power systems. The prospect of low-cost storage has long been a nirvana for the renewable energy industry with the intermittent nature of wind and solar energy restraining their competitiveness against fossil fuels such as coal. Now researchers have found ways to use cheap/abundant materials in Flow Batteries.
Coolest commercial mini-drone I’ve seen so far.