Science Sunday

The Coming Singularity

In physics and mathematics, the term singularity refers to an undefined physical state, typically one approaching infinity.  For example, the density of a black hole is thought to be infinity, a singularity, meaning that a black hole is considered (by many but not all) to be a finite but large mass occupying essentially zero volume.

In the more general world of every increasing technology, the term singularity means something very different, namely the idea that there will come a time when computers (and other scientific advancements) will surpass even the best of the human race in problem solving, emotional intelligence, and other characteristics that make us the dominant species on this planet.

It is hypothesized that when this supposedly inevitable technological singularity occurs, that there will be a reckoning wherein humans and machines blend, where for example robots take over most of our jobs, where we die but continue to live on in cyberspace, where through nanotechnology and genetic engineering we become true cyborgs (man and machine connected).

I don’t fully buy that this technological singularity will happen, but after thoroughly exploring CRISPR last week, I am at least a bit concerned that humanity’s destiny is at least in part in the hands of a small number of people who too loosely control technologies that could easily threaten the necessary diversity and sustainability of our collective life of this planet.

The video above features Ray Kurzweil, a leading proponent of the coming singularity, its promises and its downsides.  He thinks the singularity is coming in 2029.  In the video below, Neil deGrasse Tyson charmingly challenges Kurzweil to explain his prediction and its implications.

Shybot

In case you are now worried that robots will conquer us all, consider this robot, reported about on HuffingtonPost, that distinctly avoids human interaction.

Wait But Why?

In my many convoluted meanderings of the internet, I had the privilege of discovering the “Wait But Why” website.  It is a website that is populated by stick figure cartoon depictions that correspond to whatever subject the website owners are thoughtfully exploring.

Apparently the website is a worldwide phenomenon of not inconsiderable size, as indicated by a worldwide “meet and greet” the owners organized.

Much to my surprise, the website very thoroughly explores the Fermi Paradox, which I discussed a few weeks ago.  Go have a look at their analysis.

Warning:  avoid the zebra puzzle.

Komodo Dragon Blood

Komodo Dragons are the largest lizards in the world, and apparently also an ideal source of blood peptides needed to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Scientists from George Mason University are looking at the dragons’ blood for new compounds needed to keep medicine a step or two ahead of the most intractable bacteria infecting humans today.

To see the komodo dragons in their dinosaur like hunt for food, click on the video above.

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Author: Bob Mahoney

Physics teacher

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