MOLECULAR – THE ULTIMATE COMPUTER? – 2

MOLECULAR COMPUTERS – WHEN WILL WE GET THERE?

In previous posts I have talked about the absolute requirement of a computer system that can be totally relied upon to control a star mission. I have postulated that we need to advance from our current highly technical – but sometimes unreliable – systems to a level of reliability and logic that can only be realised by true artificial intelligence [AI].

We are probably at least 50 years from this level of AI and certainly 100 years before our AI network designs and constructs a Mars base. This would be the nerve centre to build a starship in Mars orbit for a voyage to the stars in the middle of the 22nd century. 

But how far can we advance computer capability in the next 100 years and can we ever realise the ultimate design – a true molecular computer! 

Current capability manufactures integrated circuits [microchips] on up to 450 mm diameter wafers of silicon at wire dimensions of 20-40 nanometres. Typically 1416 microchips each 10 mm square are fabricated on each wafer simultaneously to tolerances that are astoundingly minute. There are billions of transistors and other electronic components on each chip which is the size of a fingernail. A fabrication plant costs $5 billion and is built to resist earthquakes as NO vibration can be tolerated throughout the process.

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All this process sophistication is aimed at cramming incredible numbers of micro-transistors into smaller and smaller spaces producing 5 terabyte hard drives and 8 gigabytes RAM memory chips. Basically each byte is a single memory slot which is a switch [in simple terms] that can either be ‘off’ for 0 or ‘on’ for 1. This is the basis of the digital age where all information can be expressed in binary code in 0’s or 1’s, stored and processed in our computers and wirelessly transmitted around the world via Internet and telephonic communications.  For example the number 3245 is represented in binary code as 110010101101 which would occupy 12 bytes of memory set to on-on off-off-on-off-on-off-on-on-off-on. All our data can be stored and processed in this form but we need an awful lot of memory slots to do this.

Future computer development will pack increasingly more bytes into our chips but we will reach a physical constraint – there is a practical limit to how small we can make the circuits on the silicon wafers. The printing and etching processes will have reached their capability. 

So where next for the computers of the mid and late 21st century?

Scientists at IBM have created an alternative to silicon for the logic gates on microchips that will ensure the continuing shrinkage of the basic digital switching mechanism for at least 10 more years. The IBM breakthrough, first reported in Nature Nanotechnology and by the New York Times, uses carbon nanotubes, a type of molecule that is an alternative to silicon,  for the creation of miniature logic gates in microprocessors.

Now watch what IBM can do with individual carbon monoxide molecules at the molecular level! 

Further, a group of future-minded researchers are expressing optimism about the potential of tiny nanoelectronic components, organic molecules, carbon nanotubes and individual electrons that could serve as the underlying technology for new generations of microprocessors in the future.

This is the direction of the ultimate molecular computer but we are a long way from this yet. However we will certainly need this technology to develop AI computers to build and control our star missions of the future.

MOLECULAR COMPUTERS – WHEN WILL WE GET THERE?

We must be 10 – 20 years away, but what do you think?

And what if something technologically evolved over hundreds of millions of years and became the ultimate molecular entity? How sophisticated could that be? I have imagined that, but you will have to follow the link below  to find out more and learn The Quest of the Dicepterons.

IMAGINE LIFE ELSEWHERE?

                                              

IMAGINE THE UNIMAGINABLE!

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ARTIFICIAL VERSUS HUMAN INTELLIGENCE – 2

ARTIFICIAL VERSUS HUMAN INTELLIGENCE

Let us start with the definitions of artificial and human intelligence.                                                         

Artificial intelligence [AI] is the intelligence of machines or software and is a branch of computer science that studies and develops intelligent machines and software. The field is also defined as “the study and design of intelligent agents” where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximises its chances of success. 

Human intelligence is the property of mind that encompasses the capacities to reason, plan, problem solve, think, comprehend ideas, use languages, communicate and learn. 

These two definitions [Wikipedia] demonstrate just how far we are away from true AI. 

 Our brain is a remarkable organ – a ‘computer’ with about 100 billion neurons [nerve cells] and an equal number of neuroglia which serve to support the neurons. Each neuron may be connected to 10,000 other neurons, passing signals via 1,000 trillion synaptic connections equivalent to a computer with a 1 trillion bit per second processer. Estimates of the human brain’s memory range from 1 to 1000 terabytes. The 19 million volumes in the US Library of Congress represent about 10 terabytes.

Neuron

Neuron

With this amazing computing power we should all be geniuses but human brains are remarkably inefficient in key ways – our memories are lousy, our grasp of logic is shallow and our capacity to do arithmetic is dismal. However, in some ways we outstrip our silicon based computers which are so good at maths, logic and memory. Your average ten-year-old, for example, can learn to play any number of games and well, if not quite at a world-class level. How do human beings manage to be so flexible, and what would it take to make a machine equally supple in learning new things?

Today’s’ computers are in every aspect of our life and they are very complex and fast –  multi core processors operating at 6 Gb/sec with 1-2 terabyte hard drives and 8Gb RAM memory are typical of high end consumer specification. But they are designed [programmed by humans] to carry out specific tasks which they do exceptionally well but you cannot ask a computer to do something for which it has not been programmed. 

A good example is Deep Blue the chess computer designed by IBM in the 90’s which defeated Garry Kasparov, the world champion, on May 11th 1997 over a 6 game-match. But this brilliantly complex computer only plays chess and cannot play any other games or learn by itself to carry out other tasks. 

And this is the fundamental requirement of the AI computer – to learn and respond to changing circumstances and make the best decisions for success. There is a lot of research and development at present but we have a long way to go for true AI – the level that could control a spaceship on a 20 year journey to the stars. We are probably at least 50 years away from this criteria and certainly 150 years away from using it on a star mission.

I think it is time to meet Zec, my AI computer controlling the star mission to learn The Quest of the Dicepterons – follow link below.                 

 

IS THERE LIFE ELSEWHERE? – YOU BET THERE IS!

                                                      

                                      

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During the past 20 posts I have tried to take you, the reader, through a technical journey of feasibility of space travel to the stars. I believe this will be possible by the mid 22nd century and that the necessary technologies will have been developed by then.

But why go to the stars? The simple answer is because they are there! Mankind has always strived to conquer the four corners of the Earth, has visited the Moon and will in the next few decades land on Mars.

But ultimately we may have to find another habitable planet. Look at the damage we are doing to our own ‘home’ because we are not taking the environmental issues seriously. Look at the population explosion and the many factions on this planet that are focussed on its destruction. I fear for the future of our world during the next couple of centuries. hs-2009-25-e-web

But the big question is still – is there life elsewhere? – And I am utterly convinced there is. I am sure we will soon discover evidence in our own solar system of relatively simple life-forms that existed [on Mars] or may exist now in the sub-surface oceans of Titan, Saturn’s moon. But what about life as we see it all around us? There could be a billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way galaxy and there are billions of galaxies in the Universe. I have shown how the building blocks for life have been formed in the furnaces of dying stars and then flung to all parts of the cosmos during Supernovae.

In pure numbers terms, life must have evolved elsewhere – but what would it look like? If there had not been an asteroid collision 66 million years ago on Earth then this blog might be being written by a highly intelligent dinosaur! 

In our humanoid form we have evolved over the last 200,000 years but look what we have done in the last 200 years and where we might be in a further couple of centuries. But our timescale is minute compared to the age of the Universe – what if, somewhere, intelligent ‘life’ has evolved for millions or even hundreds of millions of years? How sophisticated might that be! Ghostscript 24 bit color image dump Ghostscript 24 bit color image dump

I have imagined how life, similar to our own, might have evolved at a nearby star. I have also ‘imagined the unimaginable’ – what if something has evolved for hundreds of millions of years – what might that be capable of? This is the basis for my trilogy – Quest of the Dicepterons – and the first two volumes – The Blue People of Cloud Planet and Disaster Earth set the scene for an amazing journey of discovery. Volume 3 – The Quanoxy Zeric Galaxy is currently being written.                                                                           

                                                                                                 

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IS THERE LIFE ELSEWHERE? – THE HABITABLE ZONE

     

                                                

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In the last post I hope I explained how all the elements and building blocks for life came from the death throes of exploding stars. But having produced these ingredients and flung them far and wide throughout the cosmos, we are still a long way from producing life.

The key basic elements for life [as we know it] are hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon. These give us a protective  atmosphere around a planet, water – the key medium in which life first started and the more complex amino acids and proteins that are in every life form.

But although these elements were carried to billions of planets in billions of galaxies, life could only form if a very special set of circumstances were met.

The first of these is the position of the planet within the solar system of a particular star – the habitable zone.

habitable zone

 

Basically this is defined as a range of distance from the star where water can exist on the surface of a planet, or below the surface, in one or more of its forms – ice, liquid water, water vapour or steam. But crucially the planet must be able to hold on to this water for the millions of years necessary for life to form and evolve.

Our solar system gives us a good example of the habitable zone which stretches from the orbits of Venus to that of Mars. Outside of these orbits is Mercury which is so near the Sun that water cannot remain on its surface because of its high temperatures. Outside of Mars orbit we have planets that are either gas giants e.g. Jupiter or cold rocky planets far from a recognised habitable area.

Situated in the most perfect position with respect to its star is Earth where temperature, the presence of an atmosphere and an abundance of liquid water have resulted in the most amazing diversity of life.


ku-mediumBut being in the right position i.e. in the habitable zone, does not guarantee life or sustained life. The planet must be able to hold on to its life making elements and protect itself against solar radiation.

The best examples of this are Earth and Mars, both within the habitable zone but one is bristling with life whereas the other is a dusty rocky planet. However, about 4 billion years ago Mars had extensive water on its surface and a reasonable atmosphere and life may have formed in a primitive way. I hope the current Mars rover will find incontrovertible proof of this.

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So what happened? In simple terms, Earth held onto its water and atmosphere whereas Mars did not. Earth’s iron core generates a magnetosphere which deflects the damaging solar radiation [see previous post]. However Mars has no protective shell and the result of the continuous solar bombardment was to slowly strip away the atmosphere and then the liquid water. Now there are small amounts of ice at the poles and below the surface and very little atmosphere. If life did form on Mars the evidence will be below the surface.

There may be life outside the habitable zone in our Solar System. Saturn’s moon, Titan has an atmosphere and oceans below the surface. So it has water and there is every chance that life may have formed and evolved below the surface.

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So “is there life elsewhere?” – You bet there is!

Why not take a journey with Olivia Medici and Scott Parker to the star Seren and learn how I envisage that life may have evolved elsewhere. Be prepared to discover the unimaginable!                                                                                

                                                                                                 

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IS THERE LIFE ELSEWHERE? – WE ARE STARDUST!

   

                                                  

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In the last post I talked about The Big Bang – a cataclysmic event 13.8 billion years ago which resulted in all the matter we see [and don’t see] in the Universe. But how did this lead to us and all the life on this remarkable planet called earth?

The surprising answer is that every atom in our bodies, all the elements that form everything we see and touch were produced in the incredible furnaces of dying stars! And those same atoms and elements will be returned to the cosmos when our star, the Sun, eventually collapses and explodes – but not for 7 billion years when it will run out of fuel. 

So let us consider the life of a star because they have been birthing and dying since about a billion years after the Big Bang and we are currently waiting to see the death throes of a nearby star – but more on that later in this post. 

Galaxies have been forming since about 500 million years after the Big Bang and our own galaxy, The Milky Way, is estimated to be 13.2 billion years old. It contains 300 billion stars.

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Stars are formed in a process where dense regions within molecular clouds in interstellar space, normally called stellar nurseries, collapse into spheres of plasma to form stars. They comprise mostly hydrogen with some helium. Hydrogen is the main fuel source for all stars including our sun. Temperatures and pressures are so high at the centre of stars that the hydrogen is converted into helium with the release of energy in the form of radiation. We see this as light and heat but there are many other kinds of radiation [mostly dangerous] bombarding our planet.

The sun burns a staggering 600 million tonnes of hydrogen every second! But do not worry because even at this rate our Sun will last for 7 billion years. But we only have the elements hydrogen and helium [the lightest] at this stage so where do our building blocks for life eg carbon, oxygen, nitrogen etc. come from? The answer lies in the death of stars – when the fuel eventually runs out the star firstly expands into a red giant and then collapses in on itself producing one the most spectacular events in the solar system – a Supernova.

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Supernova occur on average 3 times per year in the Milky Way but the last observed was in 1604 – Kepler’s Supernova. So stars are dying with regular frequency in ours and all the galaxies. But why is this critical to us? When a massive star collapses the temperatures and pressures at the centre dramatically rise causing fusion of hydrogen and helium atoms to form heavier elements. Thus carbon, oxygen, nitrogen [the lighter elements] are produced in abundance with smaller amounts of heavier elements [silicon, iron] and trace quantities of the really heavy elements [the hardest to make] eg gold. But the whole periodic table of elements [98 naturally occurring] is produced. Then the core explodes in the most dramatic event [other than the Big Bang] and all this newly produced matter is flung out into interstellar space where it is carried to other stars and their orbiting planetary systems.

Thus the building blocks for life on Earth arrived as the residue of dying stars – our origins are truly Stardust!

However getting the elements to a planet is one thing. Building them into life needs a very special set of circumstances which I will talk about in the next post.

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ps – astronomers are eagerly awaiting the next visible Supernova and the most likely candidate is the 2nd brightest star in Orion and visible to the naked eye – Betelgeuse – a red supergiant. The best estimates for this to happen is within the next million years! So do not get your hopes up within our lifetimes. However it may have already blown up. It is about 640 light years from Earth so if it happened now the evidence would not be seen until 2653 – I wonder what our world would look like then and would we still be about to see it? Or maybe we will have already colonised other stars – we will have to eventually!

So fasten seat belts and take a journey to the star, Seren – what will you discover?                                                                                 

                                                                                                 

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IS THERE LIFE ELSEWHERE? – THE BIG BANG

                  

                                  

                                                     new post

 

For the next few posts I will talk about the big question – Is there life elsewhere? But to do that I need to go back over 13 billion years to the formation of the Universe. We need to understand how and where we came from to be able to speculate about other life forms in the cosmos.

The accepted current basis for the start of our universe is The Big Bang Theory; an event that occurred 13.8 billion years ago. A cataclysmic explosion from a single point that resulted in all the matter [that we know about] that subsequently coalesced into galaxies, stars, solar systems and planets. And of course Earth.

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I have a problem with this because the theory says that before the big bang there was nothing – at least I think that what it says. I have never been able to fathom out what the theory actually claims the pre big bang state to be – maybe my readers will have views? 

I am a great believer in the Laws of Thermodynamics and the 1st law at its simplest says to me – “matter can neither be created nor destroyed but can be moved from one form to another.” Thus I am comfortable with the notion that matter is timeless – it has always been there and always will be – in some form or another.

So here’s my theory for the Universe –

Yes, there was a big bang 13.8 billion years ago and all the galaxies are flying apart [some will collide]. The accepted theory says that eventually these galaxies will run out of steam and slow down to a state of maximum entropy – disorder – and the universe will ‘die’. I don’t believe this and consider that as the galaxies start to slow down their incredible gravity will act first as a brake and then as an attractive force which reverses their direction such that they start rushing towards one another again. Ultimately all the galaxies [all matter] will collapse in on itself forming the ultimate Black Hole. BH_LMCHowever the forces inside this black hole will be so incredibly high that they will trigger the mother of all explosions – another Big Bang in say 28 billion years time. I believe that this is what happened just before our Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. Thus matter rushing towards itself, exploding, rushing away and then rushing towards itself again is a repeat cycle that is timeless. I would love to hear your views on this hypothesis.

CMS_Higgs-event

The experts say otherwise and I can offer no proof. But they don’t know everything. We have just proved [?] the existence of another particle – the Higgs Boson which helps to account for some of the matter we don’t understand. But we still can’t account for 70% of the matter in the universe. We call this dark matter and dark energy and some believe it to be the ‘glue’ that holds everything together.

Perhaps it is another dimension that something, if it was clever enough, might utilise for galactic and inter-galactic travel. And maybe that something is a Dicepteron! But you will have to wait for Volumes 2 and 3 for the answer to that.

But whatever theory we accept for the beginning, the Universe is immense beyond belief. We can now ‘see’ images from just after the Big Bang. That light has been travelling for over 13 billion years at 300,000 kilometres every second!  Light from our Sun which is approximately 150 million kilometres away takes just over 8 minutes to reach Earth. The nearest stars that we see are 5 – 10 light years away and the Andromeda galaxy is a staggering 2.5 million light years away but that is a short hop compared to the size of the Universe.

Our immense Universe contains billions of galaxies each containing billions of stars with orbiting solar systems. One estimate says there could be 1 billion potentially habitable planets in our galaxy – The Milky Way and we are now discovering new planets around distant stars on a daily basis.

So the first prerequisite for the question – Is their life elsewhere? – is numbers – there are so many potential Earth-like planets that somewhere else conditions would be equitable for life.

But how did life form on planet Earth? This I will discuss in the next post. 

A final thought – there may be more than one Universe!                                                                                    

                                                                                                 

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JOURNEY TO A STAR – FORCE FIELD

  

                                                    

 Over the last few posts I have discussed the many dangers in space that threaten our star mission – the asteroid belt, comets, meteoroids, meteors, meteorites, space dust and debris etc. We also have to protect our astronauts from solar radiation from our sun as we travel away from it and from our new star as we approach it.

To protect our spaceship we need to be certain of detecting and deflecting anything that is on our trajectory or to make adjustments to our course to avoid larger objects that could smash through our defences.

At the relatively low speeds through the solar system at the start of our mission we are less vulnerable. But when we accelerate to half the speed of light we will need advanced detection and a highly sophisticated deflection system – a variable force field. Not just to deflect objects flying through space but also to defend ourselves against the unknown aggressor. We have to generate a low level barrier or field around our starship and be able to rack this up to a directional defensive shield against a major threat.

Detection – Detecting large objects on a potential collision course with our spaceship will be, relatively, more easy to achieve. We already have sophisticated Earth based telescopes and spaced based satellites eg Hubble that can detect objects hundreds of light years away. We also have equipment looking out for asteroids that could come near Earth and recently one did pass between us and the Moon but we had been tracking this since February 2012. However we must not be complacent as we were taken completely by surprise by the Chelyabinsk meteor in Russia and that object was 20 metres wide and weighed 10,000 tonnes!

However by the end of this century we will have developed systems to detect dangerous objects hundreds of millions of kilometres ahead of our trajectory with incredible precision. We will have to because when we are travelling at half light speed [approx 150,000 kilometres per second] an object 14 million kilometres away will be reached in 100 seconds [and quicker than that if it is moving towards the spaceship].

English: A sketch of Earth's magnetic field. S...

English: A sketch of Earth’s magnetic field. Shows that Earth’s interior has a magnet with its south Pole under Earth’s magnetic North pole. Earth’s magnetic field is generated due to a dynamo which creates a large currents in its outer liquid iron core. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Force Field – The best example to explain the concept of a force field is our planet. Earth is mankind’s spaceship and we are hurtling through space at 100,000 kilometres per hour as we travel around the sun.

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 And space is a dangerous place as I have described over the last few posts with billions of objects on collision course with us. If we also add solar radiation to the equation we are being continuously bombarded with lethal rays that would turn our planet’s surface to dust with no life possible. But Earth has two force fields with which to defend itself. Its molten iron core creates a magnetic field which stretches tens of thousands  of kilometres into space and this magnetosphere deflects the deadly solar wind around the planet. Earth also has an atmosphere – a shell of gas that burns up most, but not all, of the billions of objects raining down on the ionosphere, the upper region. And this is exactly what we need to protect our spaceship – a low level field to divert the radiation and a more powerful, variable field to deflect potential impacts and for defence against possible alien aggression.

 

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Low level field – Here we must emulate Earth’s magnetosphere and create a similar field around our spaceship. This will be required soon for journeys to Mars could become reality during the next 10 years. Scientists in the past have doubted if a big enough magnet could be carried on a spaceship to produce the necessary field. However recent work at the Rutherford Laboratories, UK indicates that a field extending 30 metres or so around our spacecraft can be generated from a very small magnet. This is because there is an interaction between the solar wind particles and the generated magnetic field which multiplies the shielding effect. The following is an extract explaining this…

‘Because the solar wind is a plasma made up of charged particles, it too carries a magnetic field. When the solar wind’s field meets the rocks’ mini-magnetosphere, the two fields clash, exerting a force on each other. Something has to give. Because the solar wind’s field is created by free-moving particles, it is the one that yields, altering its orientation to minimise conflict with the mini-magnetosphere’s field.

Some parts of the solar wind shift more easily than others. The positively charged protons have nearly 2000 times the mass of the negatively charged electrons, so the latter are much more easily deflected. The electrons stay at the surface of the magnetic bubble, while the positive charges penetrate further in.

This separation of positive and negative charges generates intense electric fields up to a million times stronger than the magnetic fields that created them. Subsequent solar wind particles hit these electric fields and are strongly deflected. The result is a shielding effect far more powerful than the magnetic field alone might be expected to provide.’

This work has been proved in the laboratory but has not as yet been trialled in space. However the results are very encouraging and the British laboratory is in discussions with NASA. The article is reproduced in full in New Scientist.

This shield would protect our astronauts from radiation for short [Mars] and protracted [star] missions and I have no doubt that this or similar technology will become reality within the next decade.

Voyager_shield

High level shield – now we are in the realms of science fiction eg Star Wars where a powerful, variable field can be generated at the touch of a button or more likely a sophisticated computer assessing the threat and applying the necessary defensive field. But this is where we will need to be by the end of this century if we are to go to the stars in 2150.

It is difficult to imagine a large enough permanent magnet that could achieve this. The technology might be an electro magnet powered by the spaceship’s nuclear reactor. But we have to consider all the complex equipment and computer systems on board that could be fried by a huge magnetic surge – and of course our astronauts!

I consider that the shell of our spaceship could be the electro-magnet with its huge, variable field acting outwards and away from the interior. It would be managed by our artificial intelligence computer as situations would have to be assessed and acted upon in fractions of seconds. See how Zec does it in The Blue People of Cloud Planet.

I would like to hear your views on this.                                                                                             

                                                                                                 

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