Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Science News Oct 19

[This is a transcript of the video embedded below. Some of the explanations may not make sense without the animations in the video.]

Welcome everyone to this week’s science news. Today we’ll talk about the Quantum Internet Alliance, wormholes in the New York Times, a black hole that doesn’t like its meal, energy worries at CERN, species loss, and the robot which holds the world record for running 100 meters.

The European Quantum Internet Alliance announced on Friday that they have started their 7-year plan to “build a global quantum internet made in Europe.” Dr. Stephan Ritter from the executive team of the Alliance said “Our goal is to create quantum internet innovation that will ultimately be available to everyone.” The Quantum Internet doesn’t only boom in Europe, the US government also has a “Blueprint for the Quantum Internet”. the Chinese are working on it too, and many other countries have similar plans.

What is the quantum internet and, most importantly, will it make YouTube better? I’m afraid not.

The quantum internet would be a network with hubs, cables, relay stations and maybe one day also with satellites. It’d make it possible to exchange particles which maintain their quantum behaviour, like being into two states at once. Why would you want to do that? Because quantum particles have this funny property that if you measure them, then their state suddenly “collapses” from two states at once to one state in particular. This is Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance”.

It does not allow you to communicate faster than light, but you’ll notice if someone tries to intercept your line. Because that’ll collapse the wave-function. For this reason, data transferred through the quantum internet would be secure in the sense that if the receiver doesn’t get the data, then no one else gets it either.

The problem with the quantum internet is that those quantum states are fragile. Using them over macroscopic distances to transmit any interesting amount of data is possible, but impractical and I doubt it’ll ever make financial sense. It's like the soup tube start-up of this woman’s boyfriend on reddit. Put soup pipes under the ground, connect apartment buildings to soup kitchens, then sell soup subscription. That’s certainly possible. But it’s an expensive solution to a problem which doesn’t exist. Just like the quantum internet.

Don’t get me wrong guys, I am totally in favour of the quantum internet. Because it’ll be great for research in quantum foundations which I work on myself. But I’d really like to know how so many governments and CEOs got talked into believing they need a quantum internet. Because if I knew, I’d like to talk to them about my global soup network.

Mr President.

Sure. Chicken soup, tomato soup, noodle soup.

Cheese soup? You’re my kind of president.

According to several headlines you may have seen this week, a black hole has spewed out material, or burped it out, or puked it out. I guess we’re lucky the headlines haven’t used metaphors for worse digestive problems, at least not yet. But of course, black holes don’t puke out stuff. Nothing escapes from black holes, that’s why they’re called black holes. It’s just that when a black hole attracts a star and tears it into pieces, some of the remains may escape or they may orbit around the black hole for a long time without falling in.

Both cases have previously been observed. What’s new is that a black hole trapped a star and ejected the remains with a delay of three years. These observations were just published in The Astrophysical Journal by scientists at Harvard.

The black hole they observed is about six hundred sixty-five million light years away. It was seen sucking a star into its vicinity in 2018, then it was silent until last year June, when it suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, began to reject stuff. Some of the rejected material was seen moving away at half the speed of light, that’s five times faster than what’s been found in previous observations. It’s a remarkably strange and violent event that’ll give astrophysicists a lot to think about. But please. Black holes don’t puke. They just sometimes don’t clear their plate.

But speaking of black holes and puking, a few days ago, the New York Times published a new article by Dennis Overbye (Over-bee) titled “Black Holes May Hide a Mind-Bending Secret About Our Universe”. You may have hoped the mind-bending secret was the last digit of pi or maybe how the Brits managed to find a prime minister even more incompetent than Boris Johnson. But no, it’s a speculation about the relation between wormholes and entanglement.

One problem with the article is that it refers to “entanglement” as “spooky action at a distance”, a mistake that Overbye could have avoided if he’d watch this channel because I just complained about this last week. Einstein wasn’t referring to entanglement when he used that phrase. He was referring to the collapse of the wave-function. But the bigger problem is that Overbye doesn’t explain how little there is to learn from the allegedly “mind bending secret”. So let me fill you in.

The speculation that entanglement might be related to wormholes is based on another speculation, which is that the universe is a hologram. The idea is not supported by evidence. What would it mean if it was correct? It’d mean that you could encode the information inside our universe on its surface, more precisely its conformal surface.

Unfortunately, for all we know, our universe doesn’t have such a surface. The idea that the universe is a hologram only works if the cosmological constant is negative. The cosmological constant in our universe is positive. And even if that wasn’t so, the idea that the universe is a hologram would still not be supported by evidence. What does any of that have to do with real holograms? Nothing. I talked about this in an earlier video.

This means we are dealing with a mathematical speculation that has no connection to observation. It’s for all practical purposes untestable. That entanglement is kind of like being linked by a wormhole is then an interpretation of the mathematics which describes a universe that we don’t inhabit. It’s got nothing to do with real wormholes in the real universe.

It also isn’t a new idea. What’s new is that the physicists who work on this stuff, and that’s mostly former string theorists, want to get a share of all the money that’s now going into quantum technologies. So they’ve converted their wormhole interpretation of the holographic speculation into an algorithm that can be run on a quantum computer. This is then called a quantum simulation. Of course, the quantum computers to do that don’t actually exist, so it’s a hypothetical simulation.

In summary, a more accurate headline of Overbye’s piece would have been “Physicists want to simulate an interpretation of a speculation on a device which doesn’t exist”. This is why they don’t let me write my own headlines.


No I don’t want to talk to you.

Because you’re changing laws faster than I can make jokes about them.

Okay, go ahead.

How many u-turns can you make in a ten-dimensional space before tying yourself into a knot. I don’t know but I can get you in touch with a few string theorists, they can teach you some tricks. Sure thing, bye.

NASA confirmed a few days ago that their attempt to change the course of an asteroid was successful. Calculations based on the so far available data indicate that the asteroid’s orbit was shortened by 32 minutes. According to a NASA spokesperson who requested anonymity, the biggest challenge of the mission has been to endure the Bruce Willis jokes.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, announced that they will take energy-reduction measures. This step comes after energy prices have sky-rocketed in Europe due to lacking gas-supply from Russia. The main energy consumption at CERN comes from its flagship machine, the Large Hadron Collider, which averages about 1 point 3 terawatt hours a year, that’s about half the energy consumption of the nearby city of Geneva.

According to a press release, CERN will push their year-end technical stop forward by two weeks to November 28th. Next year, operations will be reduced by 20 percent, which will delay many of the planned experiments. I think it’s the right thing to do in the current situation.

Yes, even particle physicists have noticed that those aren’t good times for building power consuming mega machines for no particular purpose, so they, too are hoping to get some money out of the Quantum Tech windfall. Which is why CERN has a Quantum Technology Initiative, like everyone else besides me, it seems. What do they want to do with it? Well, look for supersymmetry for example. Some things don’t change.

But they also want to contribute to societal progress. According to a press release from last week, “CERN has joined a coalition of science and industry partners proposing the creation of an Open Quantum Institute” in Geneva. CERN Director General Fabiola Gianotti said that the members of the institute “will work to ensure that quantum technologies have a positive impact for all of society.” Though possibly the most positive impact for all of society might be to spend the money on something more useful.

Initial tests of a nasal-spray vaccine by Oxford University researchers and AstraZeneca yielded poor results, stunting the potential release of a globally-accepted non-traditional vaccine. According to a press release from Oxford University, the immune response among trial participants was significantly weaker than that from a shot-in-the-arm vaccination. While no safety issues were found, the “weak and inconsistent” results mean that the nasal-spray vaccine will not be rolled out any time soon and will instead go back to the research stage.

The results are disappointing to many after China and India both approved a COVID vaccines that can be delivered by the nose or mouth in September. But at least we won’t have to decide whether to call it a nosiccine or immunosation

Now we come to the depressing part. The new 2022 Living Planet Index was released by the World Wildlife Fund last week. According to the report, the population of 32 thousand vertebrate species has declined an average of 69 percent between nineteen-seventy and twenty-eighteen.

This percentage is not weighted by species population, so it’s difficult to interpret. Here’s an example. Suppose you have two YouTube channels. One channel sees its subscribers increase from one million to two million in a year. That’s a one hundred percent increase. The other had only ten subscribers to begin with and it lost them all. That’s a 100 percent decrease. Taken together you might call this a remarkable success. According to the World Wildlife Fund, that’s an average of zero percent.

So the sixty-nine percent decrease doesn’t mean animal *populations have decreased by that much. It also doesn’t mean that 69 percent of animal species are in decline. Indeed, according to a paper published in Nature two years ago, the index is driven by just three percent of all vertebrate species. If those are removed from the sample, the trend switches to an increase. What does it mean? I don’t know, but I’d say if a number is that difficult to interpret, don’t put it into headlines.

A better report that was recently published but didn’t make as many headlines comes from Bird Life International. They found that 49 percent of bird species are in decline, and one in eight is at risk of extinction. The major factors for the decline of bird populations are linked to humans, including agricultural expansion and intensification, unsustainable logging, invasive species, exploitation, and climate change.

About 5 point three billion mobile phones will be thrown away this year, according to the international waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) forum. They just released the results of a survey they conducted earlier this year in several European countries. The survey was not just about mobile devices, but about small electronic devices in general, including hair dryers and toasters. Many of those contain raw materials that are valuable and could be reused, such as copper, gold, or palladium. However, many people keep devices that they no longer use, rather than recycling them. According to the survey results Europeans hoard on the average 15 percent of those devices. The biggest hoarders are by far the Italians, following a long tradition that goes back to the Roman empire.


The electronic waste forum, oh really.

My phone? It’s about as old as I am, 21 years, take or give.

No, I don’t want to recycle it. I’m preserving the natural diversity of the technological ecosystem. Thank you.

That was the depressing news for today, let’s finish on something more cheerful. Cassie the robot has broken the world-record for the fastest 100 meter run by a bi-pee-dal robot.

Cassie was developed by engineers at Oregon State University and has been in development since 2017. The latest achievement became possible thanks to intensive training with advanced machine learning. Cassie was able to complete the 100 meters in 24 point seven three seconds which earned it an entry into the Guinness Book of world records. It also demonstrated that the best way to reduce your marathon time is taking off your upper body.

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