Physicists Nail Down the ‘Magic Number’ That Shapes the Universe.
A team in Paris has made the most precise measurement yet of the fine-structure constant, killing hopes for a new force of nature.
The fine-structure constant was introduced in 1916 to quantify the tiny gap between two lines in the spectrum of colors emitted by certain atoms. The closely spaced frequencies are seen here through a Fabry-Pérot interferometer. As fundamental constants go, the speed of light, c, enjoys all the fame, yet c’s numerical value says nothing about nature; it … Read more
How Dreams of Spacefaring Zombies Led to the Launch of Sputnik.
What, you think there’s enough room on Earth for everyone who has ever lived?
Early on a Saturday morning 60 years ago, the millennia-old dream of spaceflight came true as Sputnik 1 rocketed into orbit to become Earth’s first human-made satellite. The mission notoriously shocked the world and minted a new era of human exploration, but what’s less well-known is that Sputnik arose, in part, from a 19th century … Read more
Algorithms Supercharged Gerrymandering. We Should Use Them to Fix it.
A new suite of open source redistricting software can help citizens reclaim democracy.
Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for Gill v. Whitford, in which the state of Wisconsin will argue that congressional redistricting practices are not subject to judicial oversight. At the core of this hearing is whether partisan gerrymandering—a tactic used by political parties to redraw congressional voting districts so that the voting power within those … Read more
Who Is Satoshi Nakamoto, the Creator of Bitcoin?
Like a frustrating episode of Lost, there’s one too many clues and few, if any, answers.
For all of Bitcoin’s fabled transparency, a key piece of this bubblicious puzzle remains elusively opaque. Who the hell is Satoshi Nakamoto? Like a frustrating episode of Lost, there’s one too many clues and few if any answers. Satoshi, of course, is the one who started it all, unleashing his concept of a cryptographic, self-regulating … Read more
The Nations Guaranteed to Be Swallowed by the Sea.
“We’ve already lost some island atolls. On others the rising sea is destroying homes, washing away coffins and skeletons from graves”
Imagine the street you live on is knee-deep in floodwater, and it’s ruining everything in sight, including your home. Now imagine that those awful floodwaters never, ever recede. Instead, the water just keeps rising and rising until your entire country drowns. For a number of island nations, that’s ultimately the significance of the recent reports … Read more
Haunted by His Brother, He Revolutionized Physics.
Time. As a physicist, Wheeler had always been curious to untangle the nature of that mysterious dimension.
The postcard contained only two words: “Hurry up.” John Archibald Wheeler, a 33-year-old physicist, was in Hanford, Wash., working on the nuclear reactor that was feeding plutonium to Los Alamos, when he received the postcard from his younger brother, Joe. It was late summer, 1944. Joe was fighting on the front lines of World War … Read more
What the Near Future Is Actually Going to Look Like.
The biggest lie about the future is that it's going to look much different from today.
The biggest lie about the future is that it’s going to look much different from today. I mean, The Jetsons and Futurama are one thing, but in near-future portrayals—those shown in goofball blockbusters like I, Robot and Minority Report—the world is given a glossy, high-tech makeover. These futuristic landscapes suggest we’re about to see a … Read more
How Lasers, Radar, and Local Economies Are Helping Save World Heritage Sites.
The Global Heritage Fund is eager to employ novel technological approaches to the evergreen problem of protecting cultural history.
Archeology is often viewed as a painstaking science involving scalpels, toothbrushes, and methodically detailed notes. Well, to a large extent, that remains an accurate perception. But it doesn’t mean that lasers can’t be thrown into the mix too. The Global Heritage Fund, a non-profit based in Silicon Valley, is eager to employ novel technological approaches … Read more
'Black Box' Software Could Be the Future of Cryptography
“Traditional encryption is about securing data” said Dr. Dan Boneh
Imagine trying to throw a dart at a bullseye that’s 200 feet away with only your bare hands. Now, add a blindfold to the equation. Theoretically, it might be possible. But practically, it’s pretty much impossible—about the same odds as trying to break a new form of software protection called indistinguishability obfuscation. Indistinguishability obfuscation—similar in … Read more
How Respond to Immortality: An Interview with Philosopher John Fischer
The scope of The Immortality Project reflects that boundlessness.
Five million dollars is a hefty grant for any academic to receive, let alone a philosopher. And yet that’s exactly what UC Riverside philosophy professor John Martin Fischer received last year for a project that will involve dozens of scientists, philosophers, and theologians from around the world to examine a subject that is probably unknowable: … Read more