from the world's big
Help future Mars rovers better navigate the red planet's treacherous terrain.
- NASA just announced its AI4Mars project, which lets you can take a virtually simulated tour around Mars via the Curiosity rover.
- The simulation project is calling on users to help the rover better classify the planet's sometimes dangerous terrain by labeling images taken by Curiosity.
- This project gives you a chance to participate in enhancing the new machine learning approaches for exploring Mars and unveiling its secrets.
Improving future rovers<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="152ec3e534f89608151837f90ad46b21"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8W-KMiqKAFw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Designed by a team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the simulation project is calling on users to help the rover better classify the planet's sometimes dangerous terrain. Your task is to identify and label images taken by Curiosity from Mars' surface for scientists to use. The crowdsourced data will help train a future rover to more safely navigate obstacles like bedrocks or sand.</p><p>Mars rovers have an unfortunate habit of getting stuck in sand traps, and sometimes never getting out, as was the tragic fate of NASA's <a href="https://www.space.com/18766-spirit-rover.html" target="_blank">Spirit Rover</a>. The project hopes to make future rovers similar to self-driving vehicles that know "where it's safe to drive, land, sleep and hibernate," <a href="https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/hiro-ono/ai4mars/about/research" target="_blank">according to the website</a>. </p>
How it works<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="36e003afeadd9aab9186ad3cf6b05521"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/LJXQ0-a9IJE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>When you open the classification tool on the website, you're instructed to select different surface types — sand, soil, bedrock, and big rocks — using a polygon drawing tool designated for the type of terrain you are labeling. After you've identified everything in the image, you click "Done" to move on to the next photo and do it again. If you aren't sure about an object, the website asks you to leave it unlabeled. It also asks you not to overlap the polygons. If you get confused, click "Tutorial" to open a popover and a discussion board where you can ask questions.</p><p>You won't get to virtually control Curiosity around the surface of Mars like a video game. But this project does give you a chance to get an intimate look at the planet's surface and enhance the new machine learning approaches for exploring mars and unveiling its secrets. </p><p>Similar projects calling on volunteers to help with scientific research can be found at <a href="https://www.zooniverse.org/projects" target="_blank">Zooniverse's project page</a>. For example, you can help researchers find asteroids in images from the Hubble Space Telescope, or help Seismologists by listening for Earthquakes using technology that makes seismic waves audible. </p>
On other planets, blue skies and red sunsets aren't the norm.
- A NASA scientist created animated simulations of how sunsets likely appear on Mars, Venus, Uranus, and Titan, Saturn's largest moon.
- Sunsets appear differently on other planets because of differences in the atmosphere, which scatters light in unique ways.
- Studying alien atmospheres helps scientists better understand atmospheric processes on Earth, and helps narrow the search for habitable planets.
An illustration of Rayleigh scattering.
Scientificprotocols via YouTube<p>The result is a red sunset, produced by an optical phenomenon called <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayleigh_scattering" target="_blank">Rayleigh scattering</a>.</p>
A sunset on Mars. Taken by the Viking 2 Lander on June 14, 1978, this was the first photo of an alien sunset.
NASA<p><a href="https://science.gsfc.nasa.gov/sed/bio/geronimo.l.villanueva" target="_blank">Villanueva</a>'s simulations are now featured on NASA's <a href="https://psg.gsfc.nasa.gov/about.php" target="_blank">Planetary Spectrum Generator</a>, an online tool for studying the atmospheres and surfaces of distant planets. Studying alien atmospheres not only helps scientists better understand atmospheric processes on Earth, but also gives them a clearer idea of which planets may be habitable — or harbor life already.</p>
This unsettling simulation shows how mucus-mist can rapidly spread in a grocery store.
- Finnish researchers have shown how a single cough can blast small aerosolized saliva particles around a grocery store.
- There is an ongoing scientific debate about how the novel coronavirus moves through the air.
- The bigger risk when it comes to COVID-19 is the transmission of larger droplets through close contact with others (three feet or less).
Knowledge gaps<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5c0c1c0c21e16c557f57bdc4bbf87581"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/zs0hGe4ffC4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>These findings highlight an ongoing scientific debate about how the novel coronavirus moves through the air. The simulation's images are certainly concerning, but the risk of actually getting enough of a virus aerosol to contract a respiratory illness like COVID-19 is unknown according to Kumi Smith, an assistant professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota. <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/how-coughing-could-spread-particles-grocery-store-without-mask-model-2020-4" target="_blank">She told Business Inside</a><u>r</u> that while the video "gives the impression that any shared airspace will lead to transmission," evidence has yet to support that. </p><p>When it comes to COVID-19, the bigger risk comes from close contact with another person within three feet or less through which larger droplets (larger than five to 10 microns) could be transmitted by talking, coughing, or sneezing. The larger the droplet the more likely it is to fall onto nearby objects or to the ground after expulsion. So if a person touches these droplets and then rubs his or her face, they could contract the virus. (Hence, the importance of frequent hand washing.) William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre, <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/how-coughing-could-spread-particles-grocery-store-without-mask-model-2020-4" target="_blank">told Business Insider</a> that droplet transmission within three to six feet accounts for a majority of virus transmissions.</p><p>But while close interactions between people are much more likely to spread an infectious dose of virus-laden particles, other research indicates the large versus small droplets difference may be irrelevant when it comes to distance between individuals. For example, Lydia Bourouiba, a fluid dynamics scientist at MIT, <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/04/coronavirus-covid-sneeze-fluid-dynamics-in-photos/" target="_blank">recently showed that a sneeze</a> can spray droplets of various sizes a whopping 23 to 27 feet from a nose. And while a sneeze is not a typical symptom of coronavirus, an asymptomatic person who randomly sneezes could expel and spread the pathogen.</p>
The importance of distancing<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzE0NTg1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjc1NzE4NH0.wfBzOoCofjHPUdNSbDzVvrwjOLx4Wq3kx2v5Ue2m0k0/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C273%2C0%2C274&height=700" id="5e6a0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7d47c345abd0dca338c820663141da98" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="two men social distancing while wearing protective masks" />
Is this the real life or is it just fantasy? And does it really even matter?
- The simulation argument was first put forth in a paper published in 2003 by philosopher Nick Bostrom.
- Bostrom assigns less than a 50 percent probability that we're living in a simulated universe.
- Some physicists believe that we can test this scientifically.
Nick Bostrom’s trilemma<p>Bostrom is undecided on the true validity of the simulation theory, but he is one of the major proponents of the argument for it. Here are some of his arguments for the idea that we might be living in a simulation. He believes that there is a significant chance that there will one day be post-human entities with the possibility to create an ancestor simulation, unless we're already in that simulation. </p><p>Bostrom accepts the simulation argument, but rejects the simulation hypothesis. Meaning that he thinks that one of the three possibilities is true, but he's not entirely convinced we are in the simulation. He states:</p><blockquote>"Personally, I assign less than 50 percent probability to the simulation hypothesis — rather something like in 20 percent-region, perhaps, maybe. However, this estimate is a subjective personal opinion and is not part of the simulation argument. My reason is that I believe that we lack strong evidence for or against any of the three disjuncts (1) – (3), so it makes sense to assign each of them a significant probability."</blockquote><p>He goes on to say that although some accept the simulation argument, their reasons for doing so differ in a number of ways. Bostrom is quick to point out that this is not a variant of Descartes famous demon hallucination brain-in-vat thought experiment</p><blockquote>" ... the simulation argument is fundamentally different from these traditional philosophical arguments… The purpose of the simulation argument is different: not to set up a skeptical problem as a challenge to epistemological theories and common sense, but rather to argue that we have interesting empirical reasons to believe that a certain disjunctive claim about the world is true." <br> </blockquote><p>His simulation argument depends on hypothetical future technological capabilities and their use in the creation of a perfectly simulated universe and world, which would include our minds and experiences of what we consider reality.</p>
Have we discovered the rules of the simulation?<p>In a far ranging and elucidating discussion a few years back at the <a href="https://www.amnh.org/explore/news-blogs/podcasts/2016-isaac-asimov-memorial-debate-is-the-universe-a-simulation" target="_blank">Isaac Asimov memorial debate</a>, Max Tegmark, cosmologist from MIT put forth a few arguments on the nature of the simulation in comparison to a video game.</p><blockquote>If I were a character in a computer game, I would also discover eventually that the rules seemed completely rigid and mathematical. That just reflects the computer code in which it was written.</blockquote><p>His point was that it seems like the fundamental laws of physics will eventually grant us the capability to create increasingly more powerful computers, far beyond our current capacity. These things could be the size of solar systems, perhaps even galaxies. With that much theoretical computing power, we could easily simulate minds if in fact that's not already our fate. </p><p>Now under the supposition that we're already in a super complex system emanating from some galaxy-sized computers, some detractors have said that we should be able then to spot "glitches in the Matrix."</p><p>Bostrom was quick to point out that any glitch we considered real could just be frailties of our mind. That would include things such as hallucinations, illusions, and other types of psychiatric problems. If any kind of glitch occurred, which is expected in a computing system, Bostrom feels that the hypothetical simulators would be able to account for that by: </p><blockquote>"... having the ability to prevent these simulated creatures from noticing anomalies in the simulation. This could be done by avoiding anomalies altogether, or preventing them from having noticeable macroscopic ramification, or by retrospectively editing the brain states of observers who had happened to witness something suspicious. If the simulators don't want us to know that we are simulated, they could easily prevent us from finding out." </blockquote><p>He goes on to consider how this isn't that far-fetched as our organic brains already do such a thing. While in the midst of a fantastical dream, we are usually left unaware of the fact we're dreaming and this simple function is carried out by our technologically-unaided brain.</p>
Testing the simulation hypothesis experimentally<p>Zohreh Davoudi, a physicist at the University of Maryland, believes that we can test if we're in a simulation. </p><p>"If there is an underlying simulation of the universe that has the problem of finite computational resources, just as we do, then the laws of physics have to be put on a finite set of points in a finite volume… Then we go back and see what kind of signatures we find that tell us we started from non-continuous spacetime." </p><p>The evidence that would prove we are living in a simulation could come from a unusual distribution of cosmic rays hitting Earth and suggesting that spacetime is not continuous, but instead made up of discrete points. Although the problem of proving you're in simulation still has the implication that any proof found might also be simulated. </p><p>In a continued discussion of the subject at the Asimov's conference, Davoudi brings up an old theological point with an up-to-date and modern premise. </p><blockquote>"... What's called the simulation is you just input the laws of physics, and nature and universe emerges. You don't actually try to make it look like it's something going on. You don't try to — the same as with computer games. You don't interfere with what you've created. You just input something that is very fundamental and just let it go, just as our universe."</blockquote><p>Other commentators remarked on this ideas similarity to deism. This means that "god" or <em>deus </em>was the first cause to set the creation of universe in motion, but doesn't interfere in it afterwards.. </p><p>From the simplicity of these laws of physics then emerges complex processes which seem to have continued to grow and evolve as the universe ages.</p>
Arguments against the simulation theory<p>Theoretical Physicist, Sabine Hossenfelder, from Goethe University Frankfurt is in the camp that believes that the simulation hypothesis is just plain malarky. She <a href="http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2017/03/no-we-probably-dont-live-in-computer.html" target="_blank">argued in a blog post</a> that a good deal of physicists don't take this problem seriously. Hossenfelder also has problems with the nature of the argument and the way the theory is presented. She says:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"Proclaiming that 'the programmer did it' doesn't only not explain anything — it teleports us back to the age of mythology. The simulation hypothesis annoys me because it intrudes on the terrain of physicists. It's a bold claim about the laws of nature that however doesn't pay any attention to what we know about the laws of nature."</em></p><p>Hossenfelder believes that there is a trivial way in which to say that the simulation argument is correct:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"You could just interpret the presently accepted theories to mean that our universe computes the laws of nature. Then it's tautologically true that we live in a computer simulation. It's also a meaningless statement."</p><p>Leaving the realm of linguistic logic and entering into the mathematics and fundamentals of physics, Hossenfelder goes on to explain that a universe cannot be built with classical bits and still have quantum effects. You also need to take into account special relativity, which no one who has been testing any kind of experimental hypothesis has been able to remedy.</p><em><blockquote>Indeed, there are good reasons to believe it's not possible. The idea that our universe is discretized clashes with observations because it runs into conflict with special relativity. The effects of violating the symmetries of special relativity aren't necessarily small and have been looked for — and nothing's been found.</blockquote></em>
No ability to distinguish a simulated universe<p>Lisa Randall, a theoretical physicist at Harvard University, is somewhat baffled as to why this is a topic up for serious debate. Her logic is operating under the premise that this idea cannot ever be tested scientifically and is just mere linguistic floundering for scientists.</p><p>"I actually am very interested in why so many people think it's an interesting question," she has said about the topic. </p><p>Her prediction is that the chances of this argument turning out to be right are effectively zero. There is zero evidence that can be conceived of that we're living in a simulation and runs in parallel to the old idea that "a god did it." Now the only difference is that a computational system has taken the place of the clockmaker, Jehovah, or the world being the breath of Brahmin and so on in this similar strain of religious examples.</p><em></em><blockquote><em>To really distinguish a simulation, you really do have to see just our whole notion of the laws of physics breaking down, or some of the fundamental underlying properties... Not because of interaction of the environment, but just the computer just couldn't keep track of stuff… I mean, to simulate the universe, you need the computational power of the universe</em>.</blockquote>
Inherent contradiction in the argument<p>Cosmologist Sean M. Carroll believes <a href="http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2016/08/22/maybe-we-do-not-live-in-a-simulation-the-resolution-conundrum/" target="_blank">that there is a blaring contradiction</a> endemic to the argument. He first lays out the gist of the argument in a supposed logical system. Here is how he views the simulation hypothesis:</p><ol><li>We can easily imagine creating many simulated civilizations.</li><li>Things that are that easy to imagine are likely to happen, at least somewhere in the universe.</li><li>Therefore, there are probably many civilizations being simulated within the lifetime of our universe. Enough that there are many more simulated people than people like us.</li><li>Likewise, it is easy to imagine that our universe is just one of a large number of universes being simulated by a higher civilization.</li><li>Given a meta-universe with many observers (perhaps of some specified type), we should assume we are typical within the set of all such observers.</li><li>A typical observer is likely to be in one of the simulations (at some level), rather than a member of the top-level civilization.</li><li>Therefore, we probably live in a simulation.</li></ol><p>With the above logic in mind, Carroll goes on to explain that if we accept all of that then we most likely live in the lowest level of the simulation, in which we wouldn't be able to perform any of our own simulations even if we wanted to and somehow had the capability to do so. </p><blockquote><em>Hopefully the conundrum is clear. The argument started with the premise that it wasn't that hard to imagine simulating a civilization — but the conclusion is that we shouldn't be able to do that at all. This is a contradiction, therefore one of the premises must be false.</em></blockquote>
Is our existence base reality—or are we pawns in a matrix? Cognitive scientist Joscha Bach explains how we might be able to tell.
Are we living in a video game? If so, the joke is on us, says cognitive scientist Joscha Bach. When people debate the possibility of human existence as a simulation, it's predominantly assumed that we are the players. Our overlord simulators are watching us, right? Well, that doesn't seem to gel with the amount of detail present in our world and the observable universe beyond. Why did our cosmic creators bother to code trillions of galaxies into the viewfinders of our telescopes? The Higgs boson, for example, is not necessary for our existence, so who would have the time to add such irrelevant frills just for our amusement (maybe the simulators had a really great intern that summer)? The answer? It's not made for us. According to Bach, if this is a simulation it's unlikely that we are the main attraction and much more realistic that the simulators wanted to make a model of a universe to explore hypothetical physics. That tiny blue dot with primates mixing concrete all over the surface? "We are just a random side effect or an artifact of the fact that evolution is possible in this universe," says Bach.