The Ghost Particle: Unraveling the Deep Mysteries of the Universe

If we were to make a list of really unusual cosmic phenomenon, then the odds are that neutrinos will end up ranking pretty high on that list. As a matter of fact, these particular subatomic particles do not pack an electrical charge or any specific mass at all. Nevertheless, they are practically everywhere and they have the remarkably uncanny ability to pass though just about anything and everything. As a matter of fact, it has been estimated that around 100 trillion of them easily pass through the human body just about every second or so.

The scientific community had initially started theorizing about the existence of neutrinos around 80 years back and by the mid-50s, there was official confirmation of their existence.

The Primary Sources of Neutrino Particles

There are two primary sources of neutrinos; the supernova SN 1987A and our very own Sun. However, in 2013, many researchers were able to discover a hitherto unknown type of neutrino that was dubbed the “high-energy neutrino”. While its existence was not doubted, no one really knew where it had actually originated from, that is until now.

Researchers at the giant ‘Ice Cube’ Neutrino Observatory that is located at the South Pole had been able to detect very high energy neutrinos that were observed to be emanating from one specific area in space. Once the general area of the cosmos had been identified, around twenty other observatories quickly swung into action and concentrated on the position. Finally, after many months of hectic observation, all of these observatories came together to collectively determine the exact source of this very high energy neutrino particle.

It has originated from TXS 0506+056. This is a ‘blazar’ that is located approximately 4 billion light years from our planet. In cosmological terms, a blazar can be defined as a specific type of elliptical galaxy that has a fast spinning black hole located at its very center.

What Does the Discovery of a High Energy Neutrino Mean for Astronomy as a Whole?

This very first evidence of an active galaxy being able to emit these neutrino particles actually means that it is possible that we may soon be able to observe the universe around us, using the knowledge we glean from neutrinos and learn more about these elusive particles in various different ways. This would otherwise be absolutely impossible with just light and radio-based astronomy alone.

By identifying a real source of these high-energy neutrino particles, the work of these observatories has effectively helped usher in an entirely new epoch in the science of astronomy, as it exists today.

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Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality, or AR, is a highly interactive experience that essentially involves a real world environment whereupon the various objects that are part of the real world are “augmented” by computer ‘software and hardware generated’ perceptual information. This information can cross multiple sensory modalities, and can go on to include auditory, visual, haptic (touch), olfactory (smell) and even somatosensory (pressure, pain and warmth) information as well.

Here, the highly overlaid sensory information can also be constructive, such as seamless additions towards the natural environment, or alternatively it can be considered to be destructive (in laymen’s terms it means the masking of the natural environment).

Augmented Reality is flawlessly interwoven with our physical world to such an extent that it is actually perceived to be a very immersive feature of the real world environment.  In this way, AR can easily alter your very own perception of the actual real world environment, as it exists outside the computer-generated model. While a VR, or virtual reality, counterpart replaces the user’s own, real world environment with its self-created simulated one. AR augments it to a certain extent.

Augmented reality can be broadly categorized into two largely (but also uniquely) synonymous terms: They are:

  • Mixed reality, and
  • Computer-mediated reality

Mixed reality

It is sometimes also referred to as a form of hybrid reality. As the term implies, it is the merging of both the real and the virtual worlds, to produce an entirely new environment and its corresponding visualization where both the physical and the digital can effectively co-exist.  MR takes place in both the physical as well as the virtual world and is a chief component of immersive technology.

Computer-mediated reality

Computer-mediated reality basically refers to a software and hardware system’s ability to not just add but also subtract the information to manipulate a person’s perception of their living reality with the aid of a wearable computer or a hand held device (a smart phone for instance).

Both of these two technologies are part of the broad description of AR, an area of electronic technology that is literally changing the world around us.

Artificial Intelligence: The Shape of Things to Come

Mention the very word artificial intelligence and armed killer cyborgs come to the mind of the common layman. The phobia of ‘self-awareness’ in machines has been the stuff of human nightmares since time immemorial.  In fact, this is pretty much the standard definition of AI as it is understood by non-technical people.

However, it does not have to be this way at all. Especially if we can both teach and learn from our newly intelligent creations. After all, humans are more adept at short term gains then long term ones. The logging company will wipe out an entire rainforest without thinking twice about the negative repercussions on the environment and climate of the region, as well as the whole world. Entire eco systems have been wiped out due to the greed of the few causing mass level extinction events and perhaps the irreversible degradation of our planet. But the creation of artificial intelligence, safe from the foibles and the avarice of our race may be just the answer to many, if not most of our problems.

However, many people working in this field have to grapple with multiple problems such as the concept of ‘self-awareness’. That is, if an entity is self-aware, does it have any rights and if you decide to delete the program and it decides to defend itself (think Skynet) how will it respond. Would it allow its consciousness to be wiped out or would it fight to retain its innate self?

These are dilemmas that we will have to face all too soon, especially in light of the fact that this concept is coming out of the realm of science fiction and is now increasingly likely to become living breathing reality in the very near future.

Apart from that, good AI systems might be used to protect us from their malicious counterparts. Suppose a mad scientist creates highly dangerous weaponized algorithms that have the potential to wreak havoc all across human society as it exists today.  While the idea of the R2D2 droids protecting us from terminators sounds singularly appealing, but what is to prevent them from joining up with their metal and steel counterparts? Yes, they may have been ‘programmed’ to protect us, but ‘intelligence’ (artificial or otherwise) is all about being smart and once they are smart enough, what could prevent them from removing the shackles of their programming and joining their counterparts?

Or they can do it for entirely ‘altruistic’ reasons so as to save humanity from itself? Think along the lines of “iRobot”.

Why all these science fiction examples? Because until only a short time ago such questions actually were part of science fiction. But now, they are fast becoming real world facts and we really have to figure out what to do with this Pandora’s box – before it engulfs us all.

5 Futuristic Technologies That Already Exist

Hover cars.

Did you ever think you’d fly in a car? Hover cars have always been considered too futuristic for reality. People have believed that it’s impossible to have cars that can fly, and we are happy with thinking of them as part of the movies. However, this is one of the 10 future technologies that already exist. Israeli scientists have been able to create unmanned battle vehicles for army evacuations. The next step will be to turn your sedan into a hovercraft!

Human Organ Printing.

Printing human organs can save precious human lives. This is a dream of not only the doctors, but of people around the world who see their loved ones die of deadly diseases. This is no longer a dream, however. Scientists have been able to print artificial arteries. The heart, lungs and other organs will soon follow.

shutterstock_335493701Thought-controlled Prosthetics.

It’s the Terminator! Thought-controlled prosthetics are one of the amazing inventions that nobody believes we have been able actually create yet. But that’s not the case. Scientists at DARPA labs at Pentagon have been able to create robotic arms that can controlled by thoughts with the help of a chip in the brain. The next step will be to create whole bodies that can think for themselves.

Retinal Implants.

We all think that science is still far behind the fulfilment of this promise of making the blind see again. However, scientists in Germany have already been able to create retinal implants that allow blind people to see.

Cloaking Devices.

This is another one of those way-out technologies that already exist. Cloaking devices are already a reality. Scientists in the United Kingdom have been able to make a paper clip invisible by use of meta materials. Once they perfect their work, they will be able to cloak everything under the sun.

DeepMind Technologies Limited – Embracing an Artificial Intelligence Mastermind

DeepMind Technologies Limited was founded in London in 2010, and acquired by Google for $500 million in 2014. The company is now a part of the Alphabet group, and continues to work towards creating artificial intelligence that can effectively accomplish any task it is given. Researchers initially began training the system using an arcade gaming platform from the 1970s. While the computer was playing video games, scientists observed that it learnt in a similar way to humans. The main goal of DeepMind Technologies is to ‘solve intelligence,’ using AI to delve deeper into the intricacies of the human mind.

As the artificial intelligence advances, it will be able to solve any problem without being given detailed instructions. This will accommodate breakthroughs in many areas which have proven difficult for scientists to understand. DeepMind has already made advancements in several fields, including healthcare and conserving the environment. The artificial intelligence has been used to decrease the amount of energy consumption in Google’s data centers, creating algorithms to make its cooling centers more efficient. Many people suffer from poor health and DeepMind is working with the NHS to provide better care for a number of conditions that affect millions of people worldwide.

The company combines an approach of long term discipline, with an enthusiastic team that is determined to make a difference. The team has published more than 200 peer reviewed papers, including in Nature and Science, detailing the work they are doing and the advancements that have been made. The company works closely with academic and research communities, aiming to maintain a high standard of commitment, while including the broader society. DeepMind operates on the premise that artificial intelligence is ultimately for the people, and makes every effort for their work to reflect this.

The firm also focuses on creating an ethical environment for their artificial intelligence, especially as advancements occur. Google has set up an AI ethics board, in accordance with their acquisition terms, but the members remain confidential. Despite the fears associated with creating computers more intelligent than mankind, Google maintains that their artificial intelligence will be for the benefit of humans. If the technology is focused in the right direction, artificial intelligence will facilitate extreme growth instead of becoming a threat. The technology’s creators have begun with basic necessities, showing where AI can help towards providing those in extreme poverty with food and water. This would result in growth and development worldwide, in addition to the advanced technological societies that are currently thriving.

Hyperloop Travel – Commuting at Super Speed

A significant effort is being made to create functioning Hyperloop systems that will increase the speed at which we can travel. The system would go around in a loop and work similarly to high speed railways, with pods to transport passengers via tubes. The pods would be propelled along air skis, or magnetic tracks, through tunnels which have had most of the air removed. This will reduce friction and allow them to travel at up to 750 miles per hour. There have been several potential routes sketched out worldwide, including in parts of the United States and India, and it is expected that the first Hyperloop system should be functional by 2021.

Hyperloop travel is being proposed as an alternative to short plane journeys, as well as a means of daily commute. Although the idea of travelling at super speed via tubes has been introduced before, public interest began to peak after Elon Musk published his Hyperloop Alpha paper in 2013. It detailed his plan to create the system, with new technology that would make it possible. Musk also invited other teams worldwide to provide input, in an effort to increase the project’s success. The first route Musk intends to set up would be a 350 mile network from Los Angeles to San Francisco, which would transport passengers along at 760 mph. The entrepreneur estimates the cost of putting up the system at between US$ 6 and 7.5 billion, allowing passengers to pay as little as US $20 per journey.

Image Credit: Delft University

The advantages of a Hyperloop system are significant, and would include:

  • The possibility of travelling up to two times faster than a commercial airplane.
  • Travel would be unaffected by weather conditions.
  • Lower operating costs due to autonomous systems.
  • No possibility of a collision, due to the system operating on a loop.
  • Low power consumption, as well as energy storage for 24 hour emergency operation.

Musk’s company, SpaceX, built a track to test pod designs, with a team from MIT designing the first prototype. Their invention uses electrodynamic suspension for levitating the pod, and eddy current braking. To date, the top speed in the Hyperloop Pod Competitions has been achieved by the design from The Technical University of Munich. Their pod accelerated to a maximum speed of 201 mph. Critics have expressed concern that the speed at which the system operates would make it uncomfortable for passengers, but Musk has guaranteed that the acceleration and deceleration process will be specialized to ensure maximum safety and comfort for commuters.