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star_trek (4)

Stepping Backwards...

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Image source: link [1] below

 

Topics: Civics, NASA, Space Exploration, Star Trek, STEM


The first time I ran into the notion of the moon landing being "faked," a young coworker showed me a grainy amateurish video on YouTube. I encountered it with a co-vendor at the IBM research facility I supported. To neither, both younger than me, did it matter that "I was there" and they weren't on the planet yet. Evidence and eye witness testimony did not move them from their stances.

Neil Armstrong thought he had a 50–50 shot at pulling it off. "There are so many unknowns," the first man to set foot on the moon said in a 2011 interview with an Australian accounting firm. “There was a big chance that there was something in there we didn’t understand properly and we [would have] to abort and come back to Earth without landing.” That he, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins—with the help of thousands of NASA engineers, scientists and mission controllers on Earth—did pull off a moon landing remains one of humanity's most incredible achievements.

Consider that 50 years ago this month a 36-story-tall Saturn V rocket weighing as much as 400 elephants climbed away from Earth atop an explosion more powerful than the output of 85 Hoover Dams. Once in space, the astronauts escaped Earth orbit, traveled to lunar orbit, then undocked part of their spacecraft and steered it down for a soft impact on an alien land. Perhaps even more impressive, after taking a walk around, they climbed back in their lunar lander, launched off the surface of another planetary body (another first), rejoined the command module orbiting roughly 60 miles above the lunar surface, and then flew back to Earth, splashing down safely in the Pacific Ocean two days later. [1]

The spin offs from the space industry technologically benefited America. Not since the king cotton era (fueled by the free, uncompensated slave labor of my ancestors) had the United States enjoyed such dominance in production, productivity and economic expansion. It would go on for decades, many young people inspired by NASA, Star Trek reruns and conventions to pursue STEM careers out of a passion for exploration, and birthing a more egalitarian society post previous sectarian divisions.

Exactly 50 years ago today, a Saturn V rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon. Four days later, Armstrong and Aldrin would land on the Moon and inspire a generation of young people to become scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.

The Apollo program's effect of inspiring America's children to pursue careers in STEM fields is one of the most powerful lasting legacies of the Moon race. Unfortunately, this effect seems to be coming to an end.

On the eve of the Apollo 11 anniversary, LEGO asked The Harris Poll to survey a total of 3,000 children in the United States, China, and the United Kingdom about their attitudes toward and knowledge of space. The results reveal that, at least for Western countries, kids today are more interested in YouTube than spaceflight. [2]

Entertainment and ambition looked upward: the notion of a three nacelle starship with a saucer section that could travel impossible speeds fueled imaginations. The notion of defying relativistic time dilation, traversing vast distances in human lifetimes propelled many of us into STEM to “do our parts” in getting at least close to this lofty goal. A fifth or tenth the speed of light to Proxima Centauri would achieve that aim. Any higher level physics class disabused us of attaining “warp speed,” but we could see the technological benefit and spin off of assisting in things that would promote the “Common Good” here on Terra Firma.

We did not count on the divorce of productivity and cost of living wages, stagnant since the 1970s. We did not count on conspiracy theorists masking themselves as serious news pundits and influencing more than clicks or product purchases from their sites. We did not count on the rapidly increasing (and encouraged) income disparity. We did not count on politicians bought by wealthy families and corporations whose only about getting wealthier and more powerful in our lives. We did not count on science denial, climate or otherwise. Such a dysfunctional dystopia depends on selfies, self-centered attitudes and distractions, like supercomputers in our hip pockets sharing our suppers; websites that reinforce our views and cute cat videos. And we did not count on the cultural division encouraged by authoritarians the world over as their best means of controlling the masses.

It is in such a world young people would rather be YouTube personalities than starship captains.

My previous, gob-smacking encounters with my younger coworkers are now explained.
 

1. One Small Step Back in Time: Relive the Wonder of Apollo 11, Clara Moskowitz, Scientific American
2. American kids would much rather be YouTubers than astronauts, Eric Berger, ArsTechica

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Your iPhone as Tricorder...

Silicon chips similar to those that would be used in the detection process. Credit: Vanderbilt University/Heidi Hall

 

Topics: Applied Physics, Medical Physics, Nanotechnology, Star Trek


The simplest home medical tests might look like a deck of various silicon chips coated in special film, one that could detect drugs in the blood, another for proteins in the urine indicating infection, another for bacteria in water and the like. Add the bodily fluid you want to test, take a picture with your smart phone, and a special app lets you know if there's a problem or not.

That's what electrical engineer Sharon Weiss, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Engineering at Vanderbilt University, and her students developed in her lab, combining their research on low-cost, nanostructured thin films with a device most American adults already own. "The novelty lies in the simplicity of the basic idea, and the only costly component is the smart phone," Weiss said.

"Most people are familiar with silicon as being the material inside your computer, but it has endless uses," she said. "With our nanoscale porous silicon, we've created these nanoscale holes that are a thousand times smaller than your hair. Those selectively capture molecules when pre-treated with the appropriate surface coating, darkening the silicon, which the app detects."
 

 

iPhone plus nanoscale porous silicon equals cheap, simple home diagnostics
Heidi Hall, Vanderbilt University, Phys.org

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Sonic Tractor Beam...

Sound image: the acoustophoretic display reproduces the logo of the University of Bristol. (Courtesy: A Marzo, B Drinkwater and colleagues)

 

Topics: Acoustic Physics, Holograms, Research, Star Trek


A midair visual display that uses a single acoustically-levitated particle has been unveiled by researchers in Spain and the UK. Dubbed an “acoustophoretic display”, the image is created by using two ultrasound transducer arrays to levitate the particle and manipulate it to trace out the desired graphic at high speed.

In 2015, Asier Marzo at the Public University of Navarra and Bruce Drinkwater at the University of Bristol created a sonic tractor beam that used ultrasound to levitate, rotate and move objects. Using a single grid of 64 off-the-shelf loudspeakers controlled by a programmable array of transducers the device created 3D fields of sound – acoustic holograms – that could hold and manipulate a small polystyrene particle in mid-air.

Since then, the field has progressed and earlier this year Marzo and Drinkwater revealed an acoustic levitation device that used two grids of speakers to hold and individually manipulate up to 25 polystyrene balls at the same time. This opened up the possibility of new applications for sonic tractor beams, including visual displays created with multiple levitated particles.

According to Marzo, such acoustic generated images, which he calls acoustophoretic displays, would offer an advantage over current holograms as they would not suffer from clipping. “[With holograms] the image can only be viewed from determinate angles and the frame of the display occludes the image, it is like looking inside a window,” he explains. “With the acoustophoretic displays the images reside in the physical space and can be observed without clipping from 360°.”

Ultrasound guides particle in a midair display, Michael Allen, Physics World

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AI, Control and Turing...

Image Source: Comic Book dot com - Star Trek


Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Computer Science, Existentialism, Star Trek


If you're fan enough as I am to pay for the CBS streaming service (it has some benefits: Young Sheldon and the umpteenth reboot of The Twilight Zone hosted by Oscar winner Jordan Peele), the AI in Starfleet's "Control" looks an awful lot like...The Borg. I've enjoyed the latest iteration immensely, and I'm rooting for at least a season 3.

There's already speculation on Screen Rant that this might be some sort of galactic "butterfly effect." Discovery has taken some license with my previous innocence even before Section 31: we're obviously not "the good guys" with phasers, technobabble and karate chops as I once thought.

That of course has been the nature of speculative fiction since Mary Shelley penned Frankenstein: that playing God, humanity would manage to create something that just might kill us. Various objects from nuclear power to climate change has taken on this personification. I've often wondered if intelligence is its own Entropy. Whole worlds above us might be getting along just fine without a single invention of language, science, tools, cities or spaceflight, animal species living and dying without anything more than their instinct, hunger and the inbred need to procreate unless a meteor sends them into extinction. Homo sapien or homo stultus...

It is the Greek word mimesis we translate to mean "imitate" but can actually be more accurately said as "re-presentation." It is the Plato-Aristotle origin of the colloquial phrase "art imitates life."

Re-presented for your consumption and contemplation:

Yoshua Bengio is one of three computer scientists who last week shared the US$1-million A. M. Turing award — one of the field’s top prizes.

The three artificial-intelligence (AI) researchers are regarded as the founders of deep learning, the technique that combines large amounts of data with many-layered artificial neural networks, which are inspired by the brain. They received the award for making deep neural networks a “critical component of computing”.

The other two Turing winners, Geoff Hinton and Yann LeCun, work for Google and Facebook, respectively; Bengio, who is at the University of Montreal, is one of the few recognized gurus of machine learning to have stayed in academia full time.

But alongside his research, Bengio, who is also scientific director of the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), has raised concerns about the possible risks from misuse of technology. In December, he presented a set of ethical guidelines for AI called the Montreal declaration at the Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) meeting in the city.

Do you see a lot of companies or states using AI irresponsibly?

There is a lot of this, and there could be a lot more, so we have to raise flags before bad things happen. A lot of what is most concerning is not happening in broad daylight. It’s happening in military labs, in security organizations, in private companies providing services to governments or the police.

What are some examples?

Killer drones are a big concern. There is a moral question, and a security question. Another example is surveillance — which you could argue has potential positive benefits. But the dangers of abuse, especially by authoritarian governments, are very real. Essentially, AI is a tool that can be used by those in power to keep that power, and to increase it.

AI pioneer: ‘The dangers of abuse are very real’
Yoshua Bengio, winner of the prestigious Turing award for his work on deep learning, is establishing international guidelines for the ethical use of AI.
Davide Castelvecchi, Nature

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