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September 2008

September 28, 2008

Quantum Suicide and The Large Hadron Collider

Stern-Gerlach Experiment
Stern-Gerlach experiment. Source: Wikipedia Commons. Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License version 1.2.

Quantum mechanics is a theory that describes the behavior of objects at the atomic scale. The effects of quantum mechanics are typically observable only at this small scale, and not at larger ones, except in unusual or contrived situations.

Electron Spin

Electrons have a property called spin that may be measured in relation to an arbitrary axis. The name is somewhat misleading. It's not quite the same concept as a ball rotating around an axis but there are some useful similarities. Since an electron has an electric charge, its spin causes it to interact with a magnetic field, deflecting the electron's path in a manner similar to the way a charged sphere's course would be altered. An electron can have its spin measured by passing it through a magnetic field. If electrons were truly spinning spheres, a beam of electrons would spread out smoothly when passed through a shaped magnetic field since each rotating sphere would take on an arbitrary spin alignment.

However, what is actually observed is amazing and counter-intuitive. The 1922 Stern-Gerlach experiment showed that spin is quantized and only two values are observed - denoted up and down.

Standard Interpretation

In the standard Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, the electron does not have a definite spin until a measurement is made, and the quantum wave function collapses to a definite value. Schrödinger's Cat is a famous thought experiment which was originally conceived by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger as a critique of the Copenhagen interpretation. In a variation of this thought experiment, one imagines that a cat is placed in a box with a flask of poison and a device that can measure electron spin.

If a single electron that is passed through the device is measured with spin up, the flask of poison is released and the cat expires. If the spin is down, the cat survives. There is a 50 percent chance of either outcome. If the box is sealed so that it is impossible to determine the state of the experiment from outside, the cat will exist in a superposition of states to the outside world with equal probability of it being alive and dead. It's not that the cat actually exists in one state or another according to the Copenhagen interpretation. The cat has become entangled in the quantum wave function describing the contents of the box and truly exists in a superposition of both states.

Quantum Suicide; Many Worlds
iStockphoto / Sirin Buse.

Quantum Suicide

However, in the Many-Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, two different worlds exist - one in which the cat remains alive, and another in which the cat has perished.

A thought experiment called Quantum Suicide has been crafted as a hypothetical test of the Many-Worlds interpretation. In this experiment, an observer takes the place of the cat and the experiment is performed many times. In some worlds, the observer perishes, but his conscious experience continues in the worlds in which he survives. He will never observe his own death. The observer perishes in half of the worlds, but it does not appear that way from his point of view. After repeating the experiment as many times as necessary to satisfy his curiosity, the observer concludes that the Many-Worlds interpretation is correct.

With the Large Hadron Collider shut down for two months due to a malfunction, some have suggested with tongue-in-cheek that the Quantum Suicide experiment is being conducted in real time with our own world. In some parallel universes, the LHC creates stable black holes which destroy the Earth. We only remain conscious to observe this in universes where that doesn't happen. In those universes, events happen that prevent the LHC from creating those kinds of black holes.

While the LHC's troubles are more likely explained by mundane problems, the idea behind the Quantum Suicide thought experiment is still an intriguing one.


September 22, 2008

How to Enter the Nested Universe Singularity Summit 2008 VIP Pass Giveaway Contest

Nested Universe is giving away two VIP passes to the Singularity Summit 2008 on October 25, 2008 in San Jose, California, USA. Click here to enter your name for a chance to win.


Searching for the Higgs Boson

Higgs Boson Production
The Higgs Boson may be produced through the decay of two gluons. Source: Wikipedia Commons. Licensed under GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.

The Large Hadron Collider's Search

The Higgs boson is the only particle left that has not yet been observed by experimental research in the Standard Model of particle physics which lists some 40 species of elementary particles. One of the goals of CERN's Large Hadron Collider, situated beneath the border between France and Switzerland, is to search for this particle when it reaches full operation.

The Higgs boson is a component of the proposed Higgs field. Even in completely empty space, the Higgs field has a value that is non-zero. It is theorized that this non-zero value gives mass to other elementary particles that do in fact have mass.

How Does Mass Arise?

But how can one particle give rise to mass in another particle? This would seem at first glance to involve circular reasoning. The Exploratorium gives a great analogy here:

Imagine you're at a Hollywood party. The crowd is rather thick, and evenly distributed around the room, chatting. When the big star arrives, the people nearest the door gather around her. As she moves through the party, she attracts the people closest to her, and those she moves away from return to their other conversations. By gathering a fawning cluster of people around her, she's gained momentum, an indication of mass. She's harder to slow down than she would be without the crowd. Once she's stopped, it's harder to get her going again.

One reason that the Higgs boson has not yet been observed is because of the predicted large amount of energy necessary to create it. Generally, physicists believe that the Higgs boson will have a mass between 114 and 1,000 GeV / c2. The LHC will be able to operate at up to 7,000 GeV  / c2 on two beams.


September 19, 2008

Puzzling Discrepancies in Space Probe Trajectories

Gravity Waves
© iStockphoto.com / Karl Dolenc

The Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes were launched in 1972 and 1973 respectively with missions to survey Jupiter and the outer solar system. At the end of their successful missions, both probes had trajectories which left them on hyperbolic courses to exit the solar system forever.

After their primary missions were completed, NASA continued to monitor the probes until they were no longer able to transmit signals. The last time Pioneer 11 was heard from was in November 1995, and Pioneer 10's signal has not been detected since January 2003.

Unexplained Acceleration

Close examination of data regarding the paths of the spacecraft has shown that there is a very small acceleration towards the sun that cannot be accounted for after every known force is taken into account. A large number of possible effects have generally been ruled out including fuel leakage, the solar wind, and navigational errors.

The Pioneer probes are not the only probes that have experienced unexplained changes in acceleration. A number of more recent missions have also experienced small changes in velocity as they passed close to the Earth for gravitational-assist maneuvers:

Possible Causes

The cause of the effect is still an open question and their is not enough data to resolve the question conclusively. A number of potential causes have been suggested, including:

A mission to specifically to study the effect has been proposed, but has not been approved. Scientists will be especially interested in the third flyby of Earth by the Rosetta mission which will occur on November 13, 2009.

September 16, 2008

Animals Survive Experimental Exposure to Open Space

Tardigrade. Source: Wikipedia Commons. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike version 3.0.

Space.com reports that tiny 8-legged animals were able to survive in open space during an experiment performed on a European Space Agency spacecraft. Tardigrades, more commonly called water bears, are similar to the brine shrimp Sea-Monkeys.

The Foton-M3 spacecraft carrying the experiment was launched by the European Space Agency in September 2007 and exposed the creatures to the extreme environment of space. Many of the Tardigrades were able to withstand the exposure to vacuum, ultraviolet radiation and cosmic rays.

The results of the experiment lend support to the panspermia hypothesis - that seeds of life may be able to travel between planets and throughout the universe by a number of possible mechanisms.

September 11, 2008

Win Two VIP Passes to The Singularity Summit 2008!


The Singularity Summit 2008

NestedUniverse.net is a proud sponsor of The Singularity Summit 2008 being held October 25, 2008 at the Montgomery Theater in San Jose, California, USA. This event is an annual event held by the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence that gathers the smartest people around to explore the biggest ideas of our time.


The Prize

To promote free subscriptions to NestedUniverse.net RSS news and email updates, NestedUniverse.net is giving away two (2) VIP passes to this event to one (1) winner. These passes provide exclusive benefits and access to The Singularity Summit 2008 event that are not available to standard ticket holders.


How to Enter

To enter, send a single email to the following address: ss08-contest@nesteduniverse.net

Include your email address as the subject line, and your name and contact phone number in the body of the email.


Contest Rules

Contest is void where prohibited by law.

One entry allowed per email address. One winner will be randomly drawn from the entries submitted and will win two (2) VIP guest tickets to The Singularity Summit 2008, to be held October 25, 2008 in San Jose California, USA. Tickets are for admission only and include access to the VIP reception on Friday October 24, 2008. Tickets do not include any other associated items, including but not limited to, transportation and lodging.

Entries must be submitted and received by 12:01am EDT, Monday, October 6, 2008. The contest entry deadline may be extended at the sole discretion of NestedUniverse.net. The winner will be announced on the NestedUniverse.net website.

Contest has no cash value. No substitution will be made in the event of cancellation or alteration of The Singularity Summit 2008. This contest is open to new and existing NestedUniverse.net RSS and email subscribers, excluding employees and family members of NestedUniverse.net.

September 10, 2008

Photo-Realistic Animated Model Emily - Impossible to Tell From Real Thing

Emily O'Brien

Keith Kleiner at Singularity Hub brings an incredible story and video of Emily, a photo-realistic computer animation created by Image Metrics. Emily was animated by a new video motion capture technique that allows facial movement to be captured without physical markers and then transferred to a character rigging for software animation and rendering.

Creating Emily

First, Image Metrics scanned actor Emily O’Brien to develop a custom template for her computer generated model. Then, eight animation artists built a custom rigging for her character in software. They captured O’Brien’s performance with video, motion tracked her facial movements, and then applied those tracked movements to the computer model. Because this process is more efficient than traditional methods, the 90-second animation took just one week to complete after the rigging was built.

The Uncanny Valley

This work definitely crosses the uncanny valley into photo-realistic animation that is nearly impossible to tell from the real thing. Check out the links above to Keith's site for additional behind-the-scenes video.

September 08, 2008

Loebner Prize Chatbots

Artificial Fiction Brain
Source: Wikipedia Commons. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike version 2.5.

The Loebner prize in Artificial Intelligence is the first formal implementation of a Turing test with a substantial prize. The ultimate winner of this contest will receive US $100,000 and each year, approximately US $3,000 is given to the creator of the computer program that converses in the most human-like manner.

The Turing test was first described in Alan Turing's 1950 article Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Essentially, human judges engage in written conversation with both human and computer partners through computer terminals. The judges do not know ahead of time which of their partners are human and which are computer programs emulating humans. The computer programs have a goal of convincing the human judges that they are in fact humans, not computer programs. The idea is that human judges are unable to tell the difference between another human and a computer program, the computer program must in fact be, to some degree, exercising intelligent thought.

Although the Turing test is respected as a benchmark of Artificial Intelligence, the Loebner prize itself is somewhat controversial - the acclaimed "father" of artificial intelligence Marvin Minsky believes it to be nothing but an unproductive publicity campaign. This year's contest will be held at Reading University in the United Kingdom on October 12, 2008. You can chat online with some of the six finalists in advance of the contest:

Previous winners of the Loebner prize have been:

Some other memorable chatbots of interest:

  • The classic Rogerian psychotherapist Eliza.
  • Ally

Although not a contestant, another interesting program to chat with is 20Q.net. This program plays a game of 20 (or more) questions with you and is quite often correct at guessing what you are thinking. You can help train it to get better by playing with it.

September 06, 2008

Incredible Book Scanning Robot

Awesom-o at the blog Artificial Intelligence and Robotics has an article about the ingenious book scanning robot ScanRobot® by the Austrian company Treventus.

The robot can scan up to 2500 pages per hour without human intervention - 8 times faster than manual methods. It can scan books produced from the 15th century to the present at 300 dpi and with 30-bit color depth. Cold light LED technology illuminates the pages without damage. A cradle which can be adjusted to open the book at an angle from 60 to 90 degrees prevents overstretching the spine and allows books to be scanned extremely gently, efficiently, and with no optical distortion.

Meta data can be entered at the time of operation, and the scanner can use OCR technology to recognize text in more than 170 languages, including Gothic script font and musical notations.

September 01, 2008

LHC Nearing Full Operation, May Produce Black Holes

CMS Higgs Event
Source: CMS Media/CERN

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN continues on target to ramp up to full operation after a second and final test of the beam synchronization systems was completed on Friday, August 22, 2008.

Scientists are excited about the possibility that the collider will produce unstable, short-lived black holes or even dark matter. Physicists Steven Giddings and Michelangelo Mangano have ruled out the potential for dangerous, stable black holes to be created in a paper entitled Astrophysical implications of hypothetical stable TeV-scale black holes published in the journal Physical Review D on August 15, 2008.

The first attempt to circulate a beam of particles is set for September 10, 2008 and will be webcast live.