The Universal Translator
September 13, 2019
The universal translator is a well-known staple of some science fiction TV shows such as Star Trek but from a real life and scientific perspective the question then becomes: is it possible to create this technology sometime in the 21st Century? At Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh scientists have prototypes of CAT’s (Computer Assisted Translations) that attach electrodes to two people that speak different languages such as English and Spanish. As each person’s mouth moves the words are then deciphered and translated by a computer. A voice synthesizer then speaks the translated words in a chosen language. It is thus already clear that primitive versions of the universal translator device already exist and can be built upon in the future.
A second element in the universal translator field is often the consideration of translating human languages such as English to an alien language and vice versa if we were to encounter them in the future. The process for this would be even more complicated than translating between different languages that exist on Earth and would certainly require some cooperation and perhaps some borrowed technologies from other alien species to achieve this. This area is entirely speculative at the moment and this topic tends to be discussed among science fiction fans and futurists for the most part but is interesting none the less.
In terms of the universal translator’s use in science fiction franchises such as Star Trek, I will never forget when the crew of the ship is forced to manually translate using multiple huge dictionaries that translate from English to Klingon (the language of the primary alien enemy of Star Trek’s original series and the first six original films), the resulting scene is humorous as the crew tries to make it out that they are Klingon when using ship to ship audio communication (they cannot use a universal translator as it would be easily detected that they are using that technology and therefore give away the fact that the ship is carrying humans). After some rough translations the Klingons believe that they are Klingons but laugh at their rough use of the language. This scene would be a good example of why computer assisted technology in translating alien languages would be direly needed in the future in order to avoid having to quickly flip between four or five very thick and heavy books just to make a simple translation from English to an alien language.
A common question that many put forward is: how close are we to creating a universal translator? The answer would probably be sometime in the 21stcentury, or at the very latest whenever we make contact with aliens and we are forced to develop it (if for whatever reason we believe that using computers to translate between Earth’s languages is not needed). The Star Trek Franchise continues to make use of the universal translator such as in the new series: Star Trek Discovery, and I look forward to watching some of these episodes that hopefully offer more humorous takes on it such as the one mentioned in the original film series above.
Fusion Power and Humanity’s Future
September 5, 2019
Fusion power is distinctly different from fission power in that it produces little radioactive waste, some physicists even predict that we may have this technology by 2030. Other than being a tremendous source of potential electrical power, nuclear fusion power may also perhaps solve our energy needs for this century.
It is then clear that nuclear fusion based power would be the holy grail for which our problems with regards to energy needs would be largely solved due to that fact that it could potentially generate huge amounts of power. The fact remains that we are not there yet, in fact it was only in August 2013 that the NIF (National Ignition Facility, which is located in California in the United States) was able to generate fusion power with a net energy gain. Actual controlled releases of fusion power were first made in 1991 in England.
There also needs to be a dose of skepticism with regards to achieving full fusion power capabilities. In 1951, Argentinian President Juan Peron, claimed that Argentina had successfully harnessed the power of the sun with the help of German scientist Ronald Richter. His claim turned out to be fake, however.
Fusion power thus offers a lot of promise, but in terms of actual power output we have only recently been able to harness it with a small net energy gain. The next 10-20 years will therefore be critical in determining whether we can generate this source of power on a massive scale.
Your Next Computer may not be “Twice” as Fast as Before
Do you like the fact that computers, smartphones and other electronic devices are doubling in speed every 18 months? Be Prepared to be disappointed as Moore’s Law is coming to an end soon, and with it the speed improvements that we have been accustomed to our whole lives. In fact, it is plausible that computers purchased in the year 2020 (or a few years later) could be the fastest (in terms of high end computers) in the history of the human race for decades to come.
The End of Moore’s law will occur as early as 2020 and definitely within the 2020’s. This is due to the fact that transistors can only be so small, and as noticed by physicist Michio Kaku, once you reach 30 atoms across in terms of transistor etching Quantum Theory kicks in and soon electrons will leak out of wires. Upon some further research, I found out that Moore’s Law has actually ceased in terms of further frequency in MHZ (more commonly in GHZ for modern computing purposes) since 2005. Transistors in terms of microprocessor trends will stagnate in growth sometime in the 2020’s as well.
There are some solutions proposed by various companies such as multithreading with multiple cores (real or virtual depending on who you talk to) and 3D stacking. Hardware and software solutions are also being sought for distributing computer code from being single threaded to multithreaded processes (most computer programs still use single threads and therefore are not as efficient as they could be with multithreaded code). In my opinion, most of this will have to be done on the hardware side as when you write code (software) there are only some processes that can be written in multithreaded code, for many tasks multithreading is simply not possible (nor needed). All of the above proposals are short term fixes and do not address the end of Moore’s Law in terms of a long-term perspective.
The one benefit I can see from Moore’s Law ending will be the fact that you could hold onto a computer for many more years in the future without worrying about it becoming slow due to an increase in the standards of running software programs and if you are a PC gamer then you can be certain that video game companies will stop increasing the recommended specs for upcoming games as they will not be able to due to Moore’s Law ending (and with it the increases in computing performance).
Physics of the Future Book Review
Michio Kaku’s book Physics of the future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 provides a tremendous amount of insight into the future from the perspective of a world-renowned physicist. Influenced by the book Paris in the Twentieth Century, a book written by Jules Verne that accurately predicted advances in society such as: the car, gas stations and a primitive version of the internet back in 1863 (this Jules Verne book was actually published in 1994 due to his publisher never releasing his book in the 19th century as he believed that it wouldn’t sell well). Kaku explores a wide array of topics such as the end of Moore’s Law (which according to an estimate by Gordon Moore himself in 2004 may end in 2024). If Moore’s law were to end computers would cease to double in computing power ever 2 years, and year after year computers would be at the same level so most people would not buy new computers and would just stick to using their old ones. This is in fact already happening (not in terms of speed ceasing to double though) with smartphones as hardware and software manufacturers are running out of ideas for new smartphones. Furthermore, smartphone models a few years old can already do many of the things a brand-new smartphone can do, so why buy a new one?
Kaku also looks into the future of medicine and predicts that cancer zapping nanobots will make cancer as harmless as the common cold in the future. This future extrapolation is based on the fact that there are already “smart pills” that had been invented in 1992 to track where a certain pill is inside the human body. In terms of energy needs currently with nuclear fission a lot of radioactive waste occurs such as its use in nuclear power plants. Therefore, nuclear fusion technology seems a promising solution to energy needs on a large scale according to his book. From my understanding of his thoughts regarding the future of space travel it is my opinion that spaceships powered by antimatter and the use of Nano ships to nearby stars will yield humanity the best results. There have been some advances in Nano ships in recent years coupled with the fact that we can launch them further as they are the size of a chip. Large scale antimatter spaceships are more difficult to put in practice as Kaku says at CERN scientists have been able to successfully extract some trillionths of a gram of antimatter. This is not enough to go to distant stars, but the fact remains that antimatter is capable of sending astronauts to great distances beyond our solar system but not in the minuscule amounts we are able to extract today. A larger atom smasher would have to be made in order to make this vision a reality (in my opinion). Whatever countries or group of countries that are willing to invest the money for this and construct the atom smasher specifically for extracting antimatter (the CERN facility is a research facility not made for the sole purpose of obtaining antimatter) would easily win a future space race, if one occurs. If it doesn’t that country or group of countries would gain a technological advantage over other space faring nations.
Kaku also looks at the future of the job market with regards to rising automation in the workplace and says blue-collar workers such as autoworkers would likely lose out in the future job market, while other blue-collar workers such as those in construction and trades that require non repetitive work and pattern recognition would keep their jobs. Furthermore, white collar workers such as those involved in bean counting (bank tellers and accountants) would also lose out in this new economy. The winners would be individuals whose jobs require creativity such as lawyers that can provide their services in a unique and different way from what artificial intelligence based robotic lawyers can provide (lawyers that cannot adapt to this new economy would be left out in the cold). Web Developers, Graphic Designers and Real Estate agents for example would be winners in this new economy.
In the end of the book Michio Kaku writes about a day in the life in 2100 and holistically brings together all the different concepts he discussed in the book. I would say this book is an excellent read and I would give it 9 out of 10 stars.
The International Space Station post 2028
June 16, 2018
Former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden indicated in the past that the International Space Station has an expiry date of 2028. I strongly believe that all efforts should be made to ensure that it lasts until 2033 so that the infrastructure and Human Resources behind the station is operational during the first year of NASA’s mission to Mars. It could be used as a communications vessel and much of the equipment on board could be beneficial during the early parts of NASA’s Mars mission. Furthermore, it would ensure steady and stable international cooperation in space among the many nations in the world. What we find on Mars may surprise us in 2033 and could change the way we do politics, economics and sociology. Russia already has plans to possibly team up with China in space exploration efforts and thus the international order of nations cooperating peacefully in space could be threatened by an east and west political divide.
The International Space Station is perhaps one of the few developments in space stations and exploration in the 21st century as this century has been largely dominated by discoveries made by telescopes rather than human space exploration and space station construction. The Kepler telescope was instrumental in this era offering insights into star systems light years away that could possibly contain alien life. The International Space station signifies a post Cold War era that had more cooperation among space agencies that prior to it’s development was dominated by an ideological divide between Communism and Democracy.
The International Space Station is also a demonstration of what top notch human engineering in space can accomplish. It showcases our abilities as a species to go beyond nationalism and racial division and unite behind a common purpose. It has also captured the public’s eye with various video footage being shot there and put on the internet by space agencies and astronaut’s. It is a beacon of hope to many that dream of a more prosperous and humane future, a future in which we can be proud of what we have accomplished this century. The strategic imperative of a 2033 expiration date rather than 2028 is critical in ensuring a smooth transition to developing a possible human settlement on Mars which would greatly change the landscape of space exploration and our sense as a species as to what “home” really means.
One Giant Leap for Beijing: China is Closer to Landing on the Far Side of the Moon
May 22, 2018
China may soon become the first nation on Earth to reach the far side of the moon with the launch of the Queqiao relay satellite from Sichuan province. Historically, it has been difficult to establish communications between the moon and Earth on the far side of the moon, but China remains determined to overcome this hurdle. China also has ambitious plans such as becoming a major player among leading space agencies around the world. The Chinese space agency may be looking for a strategic advantage over space agencies such as NASA which have had tremendous success in searching for planets using the Kepler telescope. China has the same goal (finding alien life or any life for that matter) but has a different method with regards to searching for signals: utilizing the far side of the moon to search for cosmic signals.
China could become a major player in a future space race or just in terms of its power relative to other space agencies. Perhaps gathering some funds for a mission to the far side of the moon should have been on NASA’s agenda but it seems like China will beat them in this race. China also intends on creating a lunar biosphere on the moon which would also be a first for a major space agency. A video was posted by Chinese state media over social media which boosted popular support for the mission among Chinese citizens.
The Queqiao relay satellite according to Chinese officials should be able to maintain contact on the far side of the moon between astronauts and their supporting crews on Earth, if this succeeds it will revolutionize communications satellites across the aerospace industry. Perhaps in the future this technology can be used to establish contact between Earth and other remote places in the universe that would typically not be candidates to establish communications.
NASA’s InSight Spacecraft: an Important Mission to Learn More about Mars
May 14, 2018
NASA’s InSight spacecraft launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 5. Unlike most spacecraft launches it was launched from California instead of the typical launch location chosen by NASA: Cape Canaveral, Florida. The journey of this spacecraft will consist of approximately 7 months in order for it to arrive on the surface of Mars. Mars-quakes will be studied as well as the composition of the core of the planet. Furthermore, the direction of the InSight spacecraft must be adjusted by NASA within 10 days of post launch otherwise it will miss Mars by a few hundred thousand miles. The knowledge gained from this spacecraft will allow us to learn more about the formation of rocky planets in our solar system and beyond. For all we know we may encounter a surprising discovery similar to the discovery of water on Mars. After all, NASA is the only space agency that has been able to land and control a spacecraft on the surface of Mars (Curiosity was the first ever spacecraft to work successfully on Mars in 2012).
Studying the core of Mars will allow us to get a better grip on natural disasters such as Mars-quakes as well as others we have not yet heard about that occur on Mars. After all, our knowledge of Mars is quite limited in terms of what we have captured on the surface as this will be only the second spacecraft in human history to land and be functional (should this mission succeed as many scientists are hoping). More information about the climate within the inner core of Mars can be obtained with this mission. The satellites launched along with the spacecraft are functioning properly according to engineers with NASA. The experiments conducted by this spacecraft will take place over the course of two years. The spacecrafts trip will consist of approximately 205 days as it gathers vital information that decades from now could potentially be seen as crucial to understanding how to establish a human settlement on Mars.
The launch of this spacecraft turns the focus away from telescopes in the realm of space related news. Often when we hear about news from NASA it typically deals with telescopes such as Kepler, Spitzer and the James Webb telescope. The launch of this spacecraft is great news to hear especially considering that 2033 is the target year (mandated by a presidential order by U.S President Donald Trump) for a human mission to Mars. This spacecraft’s launch is only one of several series of events that are necessary before an eventual astronaut led trip to Mars.
Space Exploration Must Move Dramatically Forward in Progress within the Next 100 years
May 11, 2018
As the Late Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking indicated, humans must make dramatic progress in space exploration in the next 100 years if we are to survive. Couple this with J. Richard Gott III suggesting that a Martian human settlement must be developed by us humans within 46 years (this was suggested by him in 2007 so a target date would be 2053). Considering that NASA is under an executive order to have a manned mission to Mars by 2033 this would give around 20 years for a human presence to form on Mars. Although space telescopes have brought in impressive findings over the last twenty to thirty years, human spaceflight is a completely different matter as the last place that humans went to was the moon back in the 1960’s. War, political corruption, a dramatic reduction in funding towards space programs and other problems here on earth have resulted in stagnated progress in human spaceflight and exploration. The only notable achievement that consisted of human spaceflight in the last twenty years is perhaps the construction and maintenance of the International Space Station.
Most human accomplishments so far in the 21st century have been the result of the relentless determination of scientists, astronomers and amateur astronomers alike. The recent mapping of the Milky Way Galaxy is a notable achievement by the European Space Agency, however one must note that buildings telescopes and conducting studies and research is much cheaper than actual human space exploration and that governments around the world that have taken a frugal approach to funding space exploration would rather continue to see developments like this than actually invest the political capital (consisting of social, economic and technological means) that are necessary for the development of human spaceflight, specifically in regards to space exploration by professional astronaut’s. Progress in space exploration remains relatively stagnant in the 21st century in contrast to the tremendous progress in space exploration in the 20th century. The Late Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking mentioned that the next 100 years remain more uncertain. All aspects of human civilization (political, economic and social) must remain committed to establishing a human settlement on Mars sometime in the middle of this century. This is imperative to all humans, focusing on utopian worlds in entertainment will not get us there but rather a commitment to the Sciences (to develop future scientists and in greater numbers), the Arts (to develop the political leaders of tomorrow) and the research and development capabilities of military’s around the world (it is R&D that got us the internet after all, not war). Committing to increased funding and more accessible training in these fields are crucial in achieving Hawking’s vision of a civilization capable of spaceflight to distant stars.
James Webb Telescope
The launch of the James Webb Telescope in 2019 will allow more studies into star systems such as TRAPPIST-1. It is a project undertaken by three premier space agencies: NASA, the CSA and the ESA. This will give us vital knowledge about the composition of these mysterious planets that are believed to contain life, and possibly intelligent (alien) life as well. The Spitzer telescope initially discovered the Trappist 1 system while in a heliocentric orbit. The initial discovery of three planets in the Trappist 1 system in 2016 may very well go into the history books if these planets indeed have alien or any sort of life. Also of note is the fact that The James Webb Telescope will view Mars during the year 2020 and is expected to find out many interesting facts about the planet that we are not yet aware of. It will also be able to capture the entirety of Mars at once, unlike orbiters that take a while to obtain a full schematic of the planet. Thus, the James Webb Telescope is a profound step forward in terms of the technological capacities of space agencies such as NASA to observe planets.
Scientists will also be able to measure how much water has disappeared from the face of Mars over time by comparing normal water and heavy water ratios. Scientists believe that some water might exist on Mars in the form of underground aquifers. The idea is that these aquifers could potentially at the very least host primitive life. Furthermore, this telescope will also help us humans understand the early formation of the universe as the goal is to understand how the first objects that formed after the commencement of the big bang in the beginning of the history of the universe came to be.
The telescope was originally supposed to be launched in 2018, however due to spacecraft equipment taking longer to integrate with each other the launch has been postponed until 2019. This telescope will be the most powerful telescope ever made in human history. The budget of the telescope consists of $8.8 billion U.S dollars. Unlike the Hubble space telescope, the James Webb Telescope isn’t designed to be maintained by astronauts in space so it must work at a first attempt at launch. There are concerns among many members of the U.S congress that it might not work the first time like Hubble and due to it not being maintained by astronauts in space it may be a waste of money so congress discussed this manner thoroughly and NASA, the ESA and the CSA will have it undergo rigorous preparation before launch. Prior to the year 2000, NASA officials estimated that the telescope would cost around $1 billion U.S dollars, the cost of it has now ballooned to around nine times more than that. There is specifically an issue with the cryocooler on the telescope which was heavily discussed among government officials in congress. NASA has some wiggle room before launch which is an additional 10 months to get things ready but the concern is that the cryocooler may eat up a large portion of that time and take away attention to other aspects of the telescope that need to be prepared and inspected before launch.
The Voyages of the Kepler Telescope
The primary purpose of the Kepler telescope is to find Earth like planets in the habitual zone of star systems. It accomplishes this by analyzing the dimming of stars to determine this. A critical blow to the mission occurred in 2013 when an additional gyroscopic wheel on the spacecraft stopped working. This is a large concern as a year prior a wheel had also stopped working. After several months of analysis in 2013 NASA determined that it was in their best interests to abandon the effort to fix the wheel as determined by their engineers. This was largely due to the impracticality and impossibility of NASA being able to ever fix the two wheels. One particular planet found by the Kepler spacecraft was found to emit strange patterns of light particularly in its light curves dropping tremendously at irregular intervals.
Kepler originally launched on March 7,2009 and has discovered a growing amount of planets ever since. Despite it’s mechanical wheel failures it can still garner a significant amount of planets that scientists as well as planet hunters such as a volunteer group at Yale University pour over to observe data regarding possible life and the composition and elements that the different exo-planets contain. In 2016, the Kepler mission announced that they had found the largest amount of planets ever in one year, nearly doubling the total of all the planets found since the launch of Kepler in 2009.
The cost of the Kepler telescope is also very lean compared to the cost of the James Webb Telescope. It cost only $600 million US compared to the $8.8 billion allocated for the James Webb telescope. In April 2016, the Kepler telescope went into emergency mode most likely caused by a transient event that overwhelmed the telescopes systems. The computers and onboard equipment had to be power cycled in order to return the spacecraft back to normal. Oxford University has a website set up called planethunters.org where members of the public are encouraged to look for earth sized exo-planets. Two British amateur astronomers even got a pair of planets named after them. In 2015, a group of astronomers discovered the oldest known star system to date which is believed to be around 11 billion years old. The team was led by a research fellow at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. This discovery proves that there were rocky planets 11 billion years ago, considering the fact that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old this showcases that rocky planets were able to form in the early part of the universe’s history.
Trappist 1 Discovery
The discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 star system has enabled humanity to set a target at where primitive or alien life could potentially exist. TRAPPIST 1 may not be the only star system capable of supporting life (many star systems and planets found by the Kepler telescope are also likely to be able to sustain life). It is a ultracool dwarf star that was discovered by Belgian astronomers at the European Southern Observatory in Chile. Astronomers at the observatory indicated that ultracool dwarf stars are the only star systems that we are currently able to look at due to the limitations of our technology. Perhaps with more investment and research this limitation can be overcome but at the moment this is all that is available for us in the search for extraterrestrial and primitive life. The launch of the James Webb Telescope in 2019 will allow astronomers to detect atmospheric conditions on the planets in this star system. In February 2017, NASA announced that there are seven planets in this star system that are similar in size to Earth. The accompanying video that NASA revealed showed artist depictions of the various planets in the star system as well as statements by various scientists both in the United States and Belgium which generated a large buzz on video sharing websites such as YouTube. The general public also seems very interested in the findings as it gives some possibility that some of the science fiction they see in their everyday lives on television, video games and the internet may someday become a reality.
Some things in the atmosphere that the James Webb Telescope (which will serve as a great aid to the Spitzer and Kepler telescopes) will be able to detect is: water, methane and oxygen. Physicist Michio Kaku in an interview with a scientist discussed how each star system in the universe is uniquely different and how scientists have to this date not found a star system that is exactly like our solar system. The scientist that he interviews also says that in terms of aliens the reason why we haven’t heard from them is that for one they are too far away from us to make any kind of meaningful contact and secondly we are too primitive too be considered worth contacting in the first place. Furthermore, the scientist indicates that we need to observe planets in space from space shuttles in order to be able to view a greater selection of planets as we are just limited to ultracool dwarf stars at the moment. In January 2018, it was announced that the TRAPPIST-1 system had two earthlike planets in it and it is likely that these two planets have water on them. In February 2018, it was announced that some of the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 star system could have more water than Earth, specifically around 250 times the water on Earth according to the European Southern Observatory. TRAPPIST 1-D and TRAPPIST 1-E are most likely to be habitable among the group of seven planets. Scientists have relied on computers to model what TRAPPIST-1 planets may be like. Hopefully with the launch of the James Webb Telescope in 2019 more details can be learned about this particular group of planets.