Cognitive Computing Breakthrough: IBM Simulates 4.5 Percent Of Human Brain

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Take a moment to appreciate the human brain and the brilliance of its design. We make supercomputers that dwarf the brain’s ability to store and access information, but even the most advanced computers on the planet have infinitesimal processing power in comparison. Trying to simulate the power of brains, IBM has set out to reproduce the processing power equivalent of animal and human brains.

Blue Gene, the IBM supercomputer used for the experiment, was able to fully simulate a mouse, cat, and rat brain. They required just 512 processors, each of which is the equivalent of what’s in a standard home computer with 1 gigabyte of memory, to achieve the power of a mouse brain. IBM was able to get 147,456 processors working in parallel to start on the path to human brain simulation.

This astounding number of processors equals about 1.6 billion neurons and 8.87 trillion synapses in the human brain. It just so happens that this represent roughly 4.5% of our brain’s power. The study on cognitive computing by the group in Almaden is laid out in detail here.


Faster Than Light Neutrinos Still Haven’t Been Debunked

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A few weeks ago the world was rocked by the announcement that scientists had discovered something which went faster than the speed of light. That was a big deal because, all the laws of physics we know and hold dear, say that faster than light (FTL) travel is utterly impossible.

It was such big news that even the scientists who discovered it were hesitant to believe it, and at the time they cautioned everyone not to jump to any conclusions, as they engaged in further testing to confirm their findings. Maybe they’d just forgotten to carry a one or something. It has now been more than a month, and even though no one really wants to accept that this has happened (since it would change everything we know about physics), they still haven’t been able to find a concrete flaw in these crazy FTL conclusions.

The latest news is that scientists still think this must just be some mistake in calculation, but no one has been able to find the mistake. Discover Magazine has run several articles, for instance, with that as the tone but even there they haven’t really come up with a definitive explanation to brush off the findings of CERN, the guys who originally discovered the FTL neutrinos.

Basically what happened in the original experiment is this: Neutrinos were sent from one point, to another. We know that, if they were traveling at the speed of light or under it, they should have arrived at their destination in 2.4 milliseconds or more, an incredibly short period of time. But somehow, the neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds early. That is of course an almost infinitesimal difference, yet if true then those neutrinos traveled faster than the speed of light.

The top theory among scientists trying to debunk the notion of FTL travel by neutrinos involves looking for errors in the way the CERN team calculated the time involved. That’s reasonable since we’re dealing with such tiny, tiny units of measurement. It’s easy to make a mistake under those circumstances. Some for instance, think they may have failed to figure in the relative movement of GPS satellites rotating Earth, which were used to measure the time involved. Except, the CERN team’s original announcement says they took these things into account. Right now the debate seems to be over whether or not they really did, and once that gets sorted out it’ll surely be on to the next attempt at debunking their findings.


Why America Stopped Caring About Space Exploration

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Talk to any scientist and they’ll tell you that the United States is suffering from a lack of vision. We’re not funding research and development, we’re not looking towards the future, and worst of all we’ve given up on exploration. The US government has all but mothballed the space program. The most powerful nation in the world no longer has the means to send people into outer space. The Russians can do it, we can’t.

What happened? People stopped caring. No one minds the idea of exploration in general, but most polls show that no one is interested enough in it to let the government spend any money on it. Americans no longer really care about the space program. The public outcry over the end of the shuttle program was almost non-existent. Stop anyone on the street and they’ll tell you that it was fun while it lasted, but ultimately all a big waste of money. You’ll get a speech about how we should care more about what’s happening on our planet, rather than waste time thinking about the stars. But that’s not a real reason, just a half-baked excuse. I believe the truth about why exploration no longer matters to America is far more complex and deep rooted, and the solution lies almost entirely on how we treat the next generation of future explorers.

I was nine-years-old and watching, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in the skies over Florida. It was just after lunch on a school day in Texas, and our teachers had gathered the entirety of Leon Heights Elementary School back into the cafeteria to watch the space shuttle launch. We’d done this before, the school often made a big deal out of space shuttle launches, and we’d watch them live on little rollout televisions if they happened during the school day. This one in particular was special, they told us, because a teacher just like one of them, was going up into space on this rocket powered shuttle.


German ROSAT Satellite Hurtling Towards Earth Will Crash As Early As Tomorrow

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When we as Earthlings put satellites in space it’s usually to further our race and improve the technology we use to survive. Rarely do we expect to wind up in an extra-terrestrial game of chicken with pieces of said satellite once it’s outlived its use, but that’s the situation we currently find ourselves in with ROSAT.

ROSAT, a German satellite that was launched in 1990 and retired in 1999, and used to expand our knowledge of black holes and neutron stars, is on its way back to Earth but not in any sort of controlled manner. It has been out of commission for over a decade and its decaying orbit has finally diminished enough for the satellite to begin reentry into our atmosphere. According to the Huffington Post, experts don’t know where exactly the pieces will come down, but they don’t expect them to hit in the U.S. or Europe…because they have their fingers crossed.

Andreas Schuetz was able to give some super vague details about where it will hit and what exactly will make its way to the surface and not burn up in the atmosphere. Anyone between 53 north and 53 south longitude could potentially get whacked with ROSAT’s heat resistant mirror, which will likely be the largest piece to make it to the surface. And since 53N to 53S comprises just about all of the world aside from the arctic and antarctic zones, we are all targets.

Does this not feel a little irresponsible to anyone else, just letting 1.87 tons of metal and glass smash into the Earth and hoping for the best? Currently the satellite is traveling at 17,400 miles per hour, and of course that will slow down drastically once it enters the atmosphere, but this could still potentially cause a fair amount of damage, injury or death. Recently, a NASA satellite splashed down in the Pacific ocean, but even then pieces of the satellite were strewn about a 500-mile stretch of Earth. Should they not have gone up to get it?

Moving forward I’d like to think that a multi-billion dollar government program would be able to make this process a little more safe. But until then, your chances of being struck by one of these is about 1 in 14 trillion, but still be ready to duck and cover this weekend just in case.


Russia Planning A Moon Colony Built Inside Lunar Lava Tubes

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The United States may have won the first leg of the space race, but the Russians are winning the space marathon. While America mothballs its space program and cuts funding, the Russians are not only continuing on with theirs… they’re making plans to be the first country to establish a base on the moon.

Researchers have recently discovered volcanic tunnels on the moon and Russia is considering using those tunnels to house a moon colony. The head of Russia’s Star City cosmonaut training center outside Moscow tells Reuters that this discovery could make establishing a permanent colony easier. He explains, “There wouldn’t be any need to dig the lunar soil and build walls and ceilings. It would be enough to use an inflatable module with a hard outer shell to — roughly speaking — seal the caves.”

It sounds like this plan is still in early stages but Russia’s cosmonauts seem to think they can get this done by as soon as 2030. Remember, unlike the United States they still have a space fleet. This may seem far fetched, but while they’re still running missions to the International Space Station, American scientists are forced to do little more than hitch rides on their ships. The idea makes a lot of sense, and with America out of the picture, Russia may be the only nation in the world which can actually pull it off.


Sci-Fi In Real Life: FTL Neutrinos May Make Time Travel Possible

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The ever-interesting “Ask a Physist” column over at i09 tackles an issue close to the hearts of many sci-fi fans: faster than light travel.  Scientists involved in the OPERA experiment – connected to CERN – have measured subatomic particles traveling faster than the speed of light. If you want a deep explanation of the actual science involved, you should head over to the column at i09.  If you want to really get down with the math, you should go to Dr Dave Goldberg’s equation-laden explanation over at his blog.  What I can do is give you a quick and dirty rundown.

The OPERA experiment recorded that neutrinos – those electrically neutral subatomic particles you learned about in your high school physics class and then probably forgot existed – can travel about 2 parts in 100,000 faster than the speed of light.  Fairly insignificant, but Goldberg says “it’s only a matter of fine tuning to get any superluminal speed we like” after the light barrier is broken. Pair this with their potential to travel interstellar distances (their weak interactions mean they don’t mess with other things on the way), and the scientific world is a-buzz.  Goldberg is still skeptical as to whether OPERA’s current experiments will be replicated or hold up under heavier scrutiny but says that (if the results do hold) “the simple ability to send signals faster than light would allow us, in a very real way, to affect the past”.  You could send a message to someone, have them receive it before you sent it, then get their response to that message before you sent your original one.  Crazy, right?

Obviously, this isn’t full-on Doctor Who or Star Trek: The Voyage Home time travel, but it does still raise a host of interesting questions and potential paradoxes.  Would you choose to essentially change history, if you could send or receive messages about events before they happened?  What new information could we learn if we could communicate with the past or future?  Does this have something to do with how Hope Plaza communicates with Terra Nova?