Archive for January, 2016

The two most dangerous numbers in the universe are threatening the end of physics

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

5488158 ‘For the first time in the history of science, we could be facing questions that we cannot answer’

A deeply disturbing and controversial line of thinking has emerged within the physics community.

It’s the idea that we are reaching the absolute limit of what we can understand about the world around us through science.

“The next few years may tell us whether we’ll be able to continue to increase our understanding of nature or whether maybe, for the first time in the history of science, we could be facing questions that we cannot answer,” Harry Cliff, a particle physicist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research — better known as CERN — said during a recent TED talk in Geneva, Switzerland.

Equally frightening is the reason for this approaching limit, which Cliff says is because “the laws of physics forbid it.”

At the core of Cliff’s argument are what he calls the two most dangerous numbers in the universe. These numbers are responsible for all the matter, structure, and life that we witness across the cosmos.

And if these two numbers were even slightly different, says Cliff, the universe would be an empty, lifeless place.

Dangerous No. 1: The strength of the Higgs field

The first dangerous number on Cliff’s list is a value that represents the strength of what physicists call the Higgs field, an invisible energy field not entirely unlike other magnetic fields that permeates the cosmos.

As particles swim through the Higgs field, they gain mass to eventually become the protons, neutrons, and electrons comprising all of the atoms that make up you, me, and everything we see around us.

Without it, we wouldn’t be here.

We know with near certainty that the Higgs field exists because of a groundbreaking discovery in 2012, when CERN physicists detected a new elementary particle called the Higgs boson. According to theory, you can’t have a Higgs boson without a Higgs field.

Mass hysteria: The Large Hadron Collider in Cern, Geneva, where scientists continue to search for the Higgs boson
But there’s something mysterious about the Higgs field that continues to perturb physicists like Cliff.

According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity and the theory of quantum mechanics — the two theories in physics that drive our understanding of the cosmos on incredibly large and extremely small scales — the Higgs field should be performing one of two tasks, says Cliff.

Either it should be turned off, meaning it would have a strength value of zero and wouldn’t be working to give particles mass, or it should be turned on, and, as the theory goes, this “on value” is “absolutely enormous,” Cliff says. But neither of those two scenarios are what physicists observe.

The Higgs boson
“In reality, the Higgs field is just slightly on,” says Cliff. “It’s not zero, but it’s ten-thousand-trillion times weaker than it’s fully on value — a bit like a light switch that got stuck just before the ‘off’ position. And this value is crucial. If it were a tiny bit different, then there would be no physical structure in the universe.”

Why the strength of the Higgs field is so ridiculously weak defies understanding. Physicists hope to find an answer to this question by detecting brand-new particles at the newly upgraded particle accelerator at CERN. So far, though, they’re still hunting.

Dangerous No. 2: The strength of dark energy

Dark matter
Cliff’s second dangerous number doubles as what physicists have called “the worst theoretical prediction in the history of physics.”

This perilous number deals in the depths of deep space and a mind-meltingly complex phenomenon called dark energy.

Dark energy, a repulsive force that’s responsible for the accelerating expansion of our universe, was first measured in 1998.

Still, “we don’t know what dark energy is,” Cliff admits. “But the best idea is that it’s the energy of empty space itself — the energy of the vacuum.”

If this is true, you should be able to sum up all the energy of empty space to get a value representing the strength of dark energy. And although theoretical physicists have done so, there’s one gigantic problem with their answer:

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN which may have discovered the Higgs Boson particle in December
“Dark energy should be 10120 times stronger than the value we observe from astronomy,” Cliff said. “This is a number so mind-boggling huge that it’s impossible to get your head around … this number is bigger than any number in astronomy — it’s a thousand-trillion-trillion-trillion times bigger than the number of atoms in the universe. That’s a pretty bad prediction.”

On the bright side, we’re lucky that dark energy is smaller than theorists predict. If it followed our theoretical models, then the repulsive force of dark energy would be so huge that it would literally rip our universe apart. The fundamental forces that bind atoms together would be powerless against it and nothing could ever form — galaxies, stars, planets, and life as we know it would not exist.

On the other hand, it’s extremely frustrating that we can’t use our current theories of the universe to develop a better measurement of dark energy that agrees with existing observations. Even better than improving our theories would be to find a way that we can understand why the strength of dark energy and the Higgs field is what it is.

Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/the-two-most-dangerous-numbers-in-the-universe-are-threatening-the-end-of-physics-a6814826.html

Crime-Fighting Robots Go On Patrol In Silicon Valley

Friday, January 8th, 2016

knightscope_k5_robot_111814 MOUNTAIN VIEW (KPIX 5) – A new kind of security guard is on patrol in Silicon Valley: crime-fighting robots that look like they’re straight out of a sci-fi movie.

At first glance, the K5 security robot looks like a cartoonish Star Wars character.

“The vast majority of people see it and go, ‘Oh my God, that’s so cute.’ We’ve had people go up and hug it, and embrace it for whatever reason,” said Stacy Stephens, co-founder of Knightscope, headquartered in Mountain View.

They are unarmed, but they are imposing: about 5 feet tall and 300 pounds, which very likely will make someone think twice before committing a crime in their presence.

Related Story: K5 Inventors Reboot From Previous Business Failure
“The first thing that’s going to happen is the burglar is going to spot the robot. And unfortunately, criminals are inherently lazy. They’re not looking for something that’s going to be confrontational, they’re looking for something that’s going to be an easy target,” said Stacy Stephens, co-founder of Knightscope. “They see the robot and maybe they move down to the next place down the street.”

The security robots are autonomous, meaning they operate on their own. They don’t chase a bad guy down or make arrests.

They are designed to avoid confrontations. When someone steps right in front of one, the robot will stop. Then it will redirect its path around the person. All the while, sending video inside to a control center where a human is monitoring.

If a would-be burglar persists, Stephens said, “Then, the robot is looking at the video, listening for glass breakage, any loud sound that breaking in would cause. We’ll get the license plate, picture of the vehicle, geotag location, and time.”

The robots patrol using a similar technology as the self-driving Google car.

“It has a LIDAR (light image detection and ranging) that’s doing a 3D map,” Stephens said. “It will geofence itself and give itself a perimeter within which it will operate. And it moves around within that perimeter freely and it chooses its own path.”

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The company said the robots will be deployed in outdoor settings, such as corporate campuses, college campuses and open air malls.

If someone decides to attack the robot, it could get uncomfortable. When first confronted, they let out a loud chirp and notify the control center. The chirps will get louder and louder as the threat persists.

“A very, very loud alarm,” said Stephens. “Think of a car alarm but much more intense.”

The security robots are now patrolling in the Bay Area.

The Knightscope K5s are in effect at an undisclosed location in the Silicon Valley.

“Unfortunately, I cannot share who it is,” Stephens said. “Soon you will see them everywhere.”

The makers of the robot said they have a long waiting list of about four dozen companies waiting for a K5. They expect to put many more of these robots in place sometime next year.

Link: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/11/18/crime-fighting-robots-go-on-patrol-in-silicon-valley-k5-knightscope-mountain-view-stacy-stephens-autonomous-security-guard/

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