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The Future is Here Part 3 of 3: Artificial Intelligence – When Will Siri Rise Up Against Us?

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In 1950, Alan Turing, came up with a theory about Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). He was one of the most important early computer scientists and a legendary codebreaker during World War II (as shown in the film The Imitation Game). The Turing Test essentially states that if a person has two conversations, one with a computer and one with a human and can not distinguish which conversation is with the computer, then it qualifies as Artificial Intelligence.

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Since the release of Turing’s paper introducing the Turing Test, philosophers have been debating if imitating human behavior counts as “intelligence,” or if it is possible to create a computer that can “think” on its own. It’s a simple topic that has raised moral issues, questions about the “human soul” and the dangers of the digital age since Turing’s paper was published in 1950.

Stephen Hawking has stated, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Elon Musk, the developer of Space X, has stated that A.I. is “our biggest existential threat,” and in January of 2015 he donated $10 million to DeepMind, an Artificial Intelligence developing agency “to keep an eye on what’s going on.” Bill Gates the co-founder of Microsoft has also stated he is “in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence.”

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With all of these fears about Artificial Intelligence from leading scientists, technologists, and philosophers, should there be a larger concern for the rapid development of computer intelligence? How much can you really trust the latest version of Siri or Google Now? Find out more about Artificial Intelligence in this lesson and reevaluate where you stand on this issue.

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The Theories Behind Time Travel

Great Scott! How many gigawatts does it take to write a story with time travel and parallel universes? It doesn’t take that much electricity, but it does take a lot of planning, researching and creativity.

H.G. Wells, Isaac Asminov, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Kurt Vonnegut — they’ve all written famous science fiction books that focus on time travel. Wells’ Time Machine dates back to 1895, before Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and before the ideas behind black holes and wormholes existed.

Traveling in time to alter our destinies has been a pop culture fascination for a long time. Many superheroes have experienced time travel in different ways. Superman could go back in time by flying around the world quickly enough to reverse Earth’s rotation. Similarly, The Flash could travel fast enough to go back in time. Even the mutant, Wolverine, traveled back in time in X-Men: Days of Future Past to change the fate the world.

The plot lines involved in time travel and jumping through alternate realities are not easy to follow and are even more difficult to write. This lesson takes a look back in time at how some science-fiction stories have rules and a structure to the way time and alternate universes function within their fictional world and how you can create your own narrative structure to write your own tight story involving parallel universes and time travel.

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The Governments of Star Wars: How to Achieve Power and Authority

 

Star Wars mostly shows how cool lightsaber fights can be. However, it also shows how difficult it is for anyone, Jedi or Sith, to create a workable government on a large scale. Turns out that running a nation with hundreds of planets and billions of people, aliens, and robots, all with their own languages, values, and agendas, is pretty hard. This is especially true if you don’t have the two main ingredients of government: power and authority.

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Power is the answer to the question: “What can a government do?” In the Old Republic, the answer to this question was “Almost nothing.” In the Empire, the answer was “Almost everything, including blowing up a planet.”

Authority is the answer to the question: “Why does a government exist?” In the Old Republic, there were tons of answers to this question, including tradition, the legitimization of royalty, religion, and defense against the Dark Side. In the Empire, the only answer was the wrath of their evil agenda and the imposing force of Darth Vader.

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The Old Republic had authority but no power. The Empire had power but no authority. Both fell apart predictably in the movies. With no power to actually do anything, the Old Republic fell apart as soon as they faced a serious government problem. With no reason to rule, the Empire was destroyed as soon as they lost military power, much like other fallen empires in our own history.

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Will the Rebel Alliance do any better in the upcoming episodes or will the First Order rise to become even more powerful than the Empire? What authority do General Leia and Han Solo have to rebuild a government and deal with all the problems of an entire galaxy? I think the real question here is whether a galactic government is even possible, or even necessary.

Watch the video below for a breakdown of power and authority in the Star Wars galaxy and how it compares to governments in our world’s history.

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The Science of The Force

The Force
What is The Force in the Star Wars universe? Could we as humans, here on planet earth, ever dream of having such power at our fingertips? To answer that we need to look at what The Force is, and how the rules that define it compare to what is known about the world we live in.

“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

In Star Wars, The Force is an energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy. The power of The Force can be used by individuals who are sensitive to it, a power that is tapped through the midi-chlorians.

Midi-chlorians are microscopic, intelligent lifeforms that live within the cells of all living beings in the Star Wars Universe. The Force spoke through the midi-chlorians, allowing certain beings to use the Force if they were sensitive enough to its powers.

The two main practitioners of The Force are the Jedi and the Sith. Usage of the Force grants a number of useful powers, such as the ability to sense impending attacks; to push and lift physical objects; influence the thoughts of others, known as the “Jedi mind trick”; and even see the future or maintain one’s consciousness after death. Dark side users strong with the Force could summon lightning from their fingertips. Jedi taught younglings that the Force could be used for many purposes, including protection, persuasion, wisdom, the manipulation of matter and the performance of great physical feats.
Earth Forces
So, that being said, how does this compare with the laws of physics in our world? The closest thing we have to an energy field that is all around us, is the electromagnetic force.  It is one of the four known fundamental forces and is a type of physical interaction that occurs between electrically charged particles.

The electromagnetic force is the one responsible for practically all the phenomena one encounters in daily life above the nuclear scale, with the exception of gravity. Roughly speaking, all the forces involved in interactions between atoms can be explained by the electromagnetic force acting on the electrically charged atomic nuclei and electrons inside and around the atoms, together with how these particles carry momentum by their movement.

If elevated levels of electromagnetism were directed at certain areas of the brain, this can affect people mentally.  If you direct magnetic fields at different parts of the brain you get all sorts of responses.  They can be used to pacify a subject, make someone hallucinate, can even be used to alter someone’s sense of morality.

Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream…it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

Science Fiction? Or just Science?
According to physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, aspects of the force are being developed today.  We can now begin to decipher the outlines of thinking via the electroencephalogram (EEG) and the MRI, which gives us living pictures of thoughts ricocheting like a ping pong ball inside the brain.  We now have computers that can read these thoughts.  In Japan, we even have a device that allows you to see what you are seeing on a small scale – like seeing a memory on a computer screen.  Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream, for example.  According to Dr Kaku, it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

We can’t exactly use electromagnetism to move people’s bodies at our will, but we know certain parts of the brain are connected to certain parts of the body, and we’ll be able to energize them, perhaps, with electromagnetic radiation.  So we’ll be able to actually manipulate arms and legs of a person, simply by using electromagnetic radiation beamed into the brain.  This technology is very primitive at the present time, but we’re getting there very fast.

If electromagnetic forces are the key to unlocking our own Force like abilities within the rules of physics on earth, then we need something to be able to direct or utilize that force whenever we desire.  There is already an example in nature of a creature that is able to process or read electromagnetism all around it – sharks and other cartilaginous fish.

Sharks have the Ampullae of Lorenzini, electroreceptors that form a network of jelly-filled pores in their nose. This organ allows them to detect the electromagnetic fields of the objects around them.  They can sense great disturbances, like a ship with a large magnetic field, or small ones like a fish they’d like to eat that’s nearby.  Perhaps if we had some biological enhancement, like the Ampullae of Lorenizini, or if midi-chlorians somehow became a real thing, we’d be able to read and understand, maybe even use the electromagnetic forces around us.

What is known about our physical world is fascinating, and the forces that are all around are fantastical in their own right. With understanding, and when taken to the next level through technology and research, our world could be closer to the science fictional world of Star Wars.

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The Ethics and Moral Dilemma of Superheroes

Essentially, the question for every superhero is whether the ends justify the means.

 

Both Batman and Superman refuse to kill their enemies, thus allowing them to cause even more havoc in the future. Batman pushes away those who care about him the most, Superman hides his true identity by lying to his friends and loved ones. Superheroes face a slew of ethical dilemmas, not the least of which is the fact that most of them are vigilantes—breaking the law even while saving the day.

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We often view comic book stories as simple cases of hero vs. villain, but such a perspective takes for granted the idea that superheroes are the good guys. In fact, moral virtue is a complicated concept, and what doing the right thing means depends on your perspective. There are nonetheless two main schools of thought on what makes an action right or wrong:  deontology, which categorizes actions as good or bad in themselves, and consequentialism, which classifies each action based on its results. Essentially, the question for every superhero is whether the ends justify the means.

There was quite a bit of controversy around the amount of destruction caused by Superman in the film Man of Steel. Many felt such destruction could have been avoided, and it was also left unclear how many people perished as a result of his battle with Zodd, whose death also left people questioning Superman’s moral foundation. This issue will probably inform the plot of the upcoming film Batman v Superman where Batman will question Superman’s regard for human life.

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Take Oliver Queen on Arrow, for example. He starts out as brutal vigilante who kills his enemies without hesitation. His mission is to avenge his father by taking out the criminals who had plunged Starling City into lawlessness. After the death of his best friend, Oliver decides to rededicate himself to saving the city, but he believes that in order to do so, he must become a hero called the Arrow and give up killing.

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On the show, this shift is presented as a positive decision, but is it really? He no longer murders people, but many of the criminals he puts away end up escaping and hurting more people. Is it more important for the Arrow to provide a positive example or for the villains to be stopped permanently?

Oliver himself realizes the shortcomings of his no-kill rule: when faced with a choice between allowing a villain to harm one of his loved ones and killing the culprit, Oliver invariably chooses to compromise his principles in the name of protecting his family and friends. This inconsistency reflects the tricky questions superheroes face as well was the difficulty of putting ethical principles into practice.

What do you think? Should superheroes strive to do the right thing or focus on protecting innocents no matter the cost? Or should they try to find a balance between the two?

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Dystopia in Pop Culture: Fiction or the Future?

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. 

Dystopias have become a staple of popular entertainment, and despite predictions to the contrary, they show no sign of tapering off. Yet most of us have only the vaguest sense of what a dystopia is.

For starters, a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia. A utopia is a pretty old concept; Thomas More created the term in 1516 to describe a perfect society. “Dystopia” is a more recent term, dating to the 19th century: it comes from the Greek ”dys” meaning “bad” and “topia” meaning “place”. While a utopia is an ideal civilization, where everyone has their needs met, a dystopia is a society that is essentially harmful. The central arc of dystopic fiction almost always puts the hero in conflict with the government or the group of people in charge.

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. These worlds answer “What If” questions about the future with the most pessimistic of responses.
What if the earth runs out of oil?

What if we stop having as many children?

What if the government used reality TV as a form of propoganda?

What if there was no law and order?

What if we lived in a military run state?

Dystopian fiction imagines the worst-case scenarios for our future. However paranoid these imaginings may seem, they also expose important truths about our current reality.

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The Physics of the Star Wars BB-8 Droid: How Does It Work?

Introducing the BB-8!

Fans of Star Wars are rejoicing with the release of the seventh episode in the series, The Force Awakens.  With it comes a new robot, the BB-8, that has immediately captivated viewers at first sight.  It is an astromech droid in the Star Wars Universe. An awesome new toy version is available, made by Sphero. It’s a remote controlled robot that rolls without the use of external wheels.  Regardless of how the robot functions in the Star Wars universe, it’s probably not too different from the way the toy version works. Rumors from production claim Sphero’s technology helped with the development of the actual BB-8 and there was also some puppetry involved in the film version of the droid.

How do you make a sphere roll without pushing it?

An article in Wired recently explained that you need a moveable mass inside the sphere. The mass could be any number of things, like a tiny car with wheels, or a hamster.  We’ve probably all seen how a hamster rolls one of those plastic see-through spheres from running on the inside of it.  Whatever the mass is, when it moves up the wall of the sphere a little bit, the center of mass for the whole sphere shifts.

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And now for some science stuff:

When the center of mass shifts away from being vertically over the contact point, there is an external torque on the sphere.  The contact point is where the movable mass lies within the sphere. Torque is the tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis. This torque then increases the angular momentum of the sphere and causes it to roll.  In physics, angular momentum is the rotational analog of linear momentum, meaning the momentum of the spinning sphere will keep spinning until a force acts upon it.  This is similar to an object moving in a linear line – it will keep moving in a straight line until a force acts upon it. The angular momentum of a system remains constant unless acted on by an external torque.

Once the sphere starts rolling, the inside mass could just stay at the lowest point—except there is some external friction which will require the inside mass to continue to ride up the side and provide some torque.  The external friction is the floor surface on which the sphere is rolling on.  When the inside mass moves up the wall, there is an external force to accelerate the sphere horizontally—friction. Here is a more detailed image showing all the forces on the sphere when the mass moves up the wall.

Magnets keep it together:

As far as the head of the robot goes, it uses a magnet to stay on. There is probably some type of magnet inside the sphere to attract a magnet inside of the head. The head then has rollers so that it can roll along the top of the sphere. The inside magnet would have to be movable so that you could make BB-8 do fun head moves.

This is truly an adorable, awesome addition to the Star Wars Universe. I for one would love to see a buddy movie spin off featuring BB-8 and R2-D2.

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The Science of The Force

The Force
What is The Force in the Star Wars universe? Could we as humans, here on planet earth, ever dream of having such power at our fingertips? To answer that we need to look at what The Force is, and how the rules that define it compare to what is known about the world we live in.

“Well, the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

In Star Wars, The Force is an energy field that connects all living things in the galaxy. The power of The Force can be used by individuals who are sensitive to it, a power that is tapped through the midi-chlorians.

Midi-chlorians are microscopic, intelligent lifeforms that live within the cells of all living beings in the Star Wars Universe. The Force spoke through the midi-chlorians, allowing certain beings to use the Force if they were sensitive enough to its powers.

The two main practitioners of The Force are the Jedi and the Sith. Usage of the Force grants a number of useful powers, such as the ability to sense impending attacks; to push and lift physical objects; influence the thoughts of others, known as the “Jedi mind trick”; and even see the future or maintain one’s consciousness after death. Dark side users strong with the Force could summon lightning from their fingertips. Jedi taught younglings that the Force could be used for many purposes, including protection, persuasion, wisdom, the manipulation of matter and the performance of great physical feats.
Earth Forces
So, that being said, how does this compare with the laws of physics in our world? The closest thing we have to an energy field that is all around us, is the electromagnetic force.  It is one of the four known fundamental forces and is a type of physical interaction that occurs between electrically charged particles.

The electromagnetic force is the one responsible for practically all the phenomena one encounters in daily life above the nuclear scale, with the exception of gravity. Roughly speaking, all the forces involved in interactions between atoms can be explained by the electromagnetic force acting on the electrically charged atomic nuclei and electrons inside and around the atoms, together with how these particles carry momentum by their movement.

If elevated levels of electromagnetism were directed at certain areas of the brain, this can affect people mentally.  If you direct magnetic fields at different parts of the brain you get all sorts of responses.  They can be used to pacify a subject, make someone hallucinate, can even be used to alter someone’s sense of morality.

Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream…it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

Science Fiction? Or just Science?
According to physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, aspects of the force are being developed today.  We can now begin to decipher the outlines of thinking via the electroencephalogram (EEG) and the MRI, which gives us living pictures of thoughts ricocheting like a ping pong ball inside the brain.  We now have computers that can read these thoughts.  In Japan, we even have a device that allows you to see what you are seeing on a small scale – like seeing a memory on a computer screen.  Eventually we’ll be able to photograph a dream, for example.  According to Dr Kaku, it is well within the lines of physics, to photograph a dream.

We can’t exactly use electromagnetism to move people’s bodies at our will, but we know certain parts of the brain are connected to certain parts of the body, and we’ll be able to energize them, perhaps, with electromagnetic radiation.  So we’ll be able to actually manipulate arms and legs of a person, simply by using electromagnetic radiation beamed into the brain.  This technology is very primitive at the present time, but we’re getting there very fast.

If electromagnetic forces are the key to unlocking our own Force like abilities within the rules of physics on earth, then we need something to be able to direct or utilize that force whenever we desire.  There is already an example in nature of a creature that is able to process or read electromagnetism all around it – sharks and other cartilaginous fish.

Sharks have the Ampullae of Lorenzini, electroreceptors that form a network of jelly-filled pores in their nose. This organ allows them to detect the electromagnetic fields of the objects around them.  They can sense great disturbances, like a ship with a large magnetic field, or small ones like a fish they’d like to eat that’s nearby.  Perhaps if we had some biological enhancement, like the Ampullae of Lorenizini, or if midi-chlorians somehow became a real thing, we’d be able to read and understand, maybe even use the electromagnetic forces around us.

What is known about our physical world is fascinating, and the forces that are all around are fantastical in their own right. With understanding, and when taken to the next level through technology and research, our world could be closer to the science fictional world of Star Wars.

Taiwan soldier_194yrbgmd88hyjpg

Dystopia in Pop Culture: Fiction or the Future?

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. 

Dystopias have become a staple of popular entertainment, and despite predictions to the contrary, they show no sign of tapering off. Yet most of us have only the vaguest sense of what a dystopia is.

For starters, a dystopia is the opposite of a utopia. A utopia is a pretty old concept; Thomas More created the term in 1516 to describe a perfect society. “Dystopia” is a more recent term, dating to the 19th century: it comes from the Greek ”dys” meaning “bad” and “topia” meaning “place”. While a utopia is an ideal civilization, where everyone has their needs met, a dystopia is a society that is essentially harmful. The central arc of dystopic fiction almost always puts the hero in conflict with the government or the group of people in charge.

The most frightening fictional dystopias are recognizable extensions of our current world. These worlds answer “What If” questions about the future with the most pessimistic of responses.
What if the earth runs out of oil?

What if we stop having as many children?

What if the government used reality TV as a form of propoganda?

What if there was no law and order?

What if we lived in a military run state?

Dystopian fiction imagines the worst-case scenarios for our future. However paranoid these imaginings may seem, they also expose important truths about our current reality.

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Star Wars: The Science of Star Killing

In Star Wars The Force Awakens, the galaxy is going to face a new threat, The First Order. This new evil empire has a super weapon capable of destroying whole solar systems, which they keep at their base of operations: Starkiller Base.

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If the name “Starkiller” sounds familiar, its probably because an early draft of the first Star Wars script called the main character “Luke Starkiller” instead of “Skywalker”, and a lot of Star Wars
writers like to reference that fact with easter eggs throughout the Star Wars universe.

It seems though that the First Order are using the name literally and that their new weapon may actually be able to destroy stars. Leaving aside for now the question of what this could mean for the Galaxy and our heroes, let’s first ask the question: how would that even work? Watch the video below to see how we break down the galactic science behind star killing.

The gravity that holds the star together is delicate. If the amount of stuff in the star doesn’t stay dense enough the explosions at its core will start to expand out in a massive explosion called a Supernova. So, if you want to make a star go supernova, you just have to add enough energy to make its mass outweigh its density.

But say you actually do want to use a laser, just for old times’ sake. Well, one way to do that is the use the technique of laser cooling. Laser cooling is a method scientists actually use when researching microscopic particles. It works because temperature is largely caused by the atoms inside of something moving at a faster rate. If you can tune
a laser finely enough to push individual atoms, you can slow down their rate of movement and cool off the structure their part of. How does this help with our star problem? Well simple, the exploding stuff acts like a core reactor. But, if you reduce the temperature of the core, you’ll also decrease its amount of fusion.

The star’s balance of gravity and expansion will be thrown off and it will collapse in on itself, and boom goes the dynamite.

The video dives deeper into the science, but basically that is the scientific method for star killing. Remember kids, don’t try this at home.