Mysterious Object  Visits from Beyond Our Solar System

A small, recently discovered asteroid -- or perhaps a comet -- appears to have originated from outside the solar system, coming from somewhere else in our galaxy.

If so, it would be the first "interstellar object" to be observed and confirmed by astronomers.

This unusual object – for now designated A/2017 U1 – is less than a quarter-mile (400 meters) in diameter and is moving remarkably fast. Astronomers are urgently working to point telescopes around the world and in space at this notable object.

Once these data are obtained and analyzed, astronomers may know more about the origin and possibly composition of the object.

"This is the most extreme orbit I have ever seen," said Davide Farnocchia, a scientist at NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "It is going extremely fast and on such a trajectory that we can say with confidence that this object is on its way out of the solar system and not coming back."

The CNEOS team plotted the object's current trajectory and even looked into its future. A/2017 U1 came from the direction of the constellation Lyra, cruising through interstellar space at a brisk clip of 15.8 miles (25.5 kilometers) per second.

Diagram showing the path of A/2017 U1

Pulled by the Sun's gravity, the object made a hairpin turn under our solar system, passing under Earth's orbit on Oct. 14 at a distance of about 15 million miles (24 million kilometers) -- about 60 times the distance to the Moon. It has now shot back up above the plane of the planets and, travelling at 27 miles per second (44 kilometers per second) with respect to the Sun, the object is speeding toward the constellation Pegasus.

"We have been waiting for this day for decades," said CNEOS Manager Paul Chodas. "It's long been theorized that such objects exist -- asteroids or comets moving around between the stars and occasionally passing through our solar system -- but this is the first such detection. So far, everything indicates this is likely an interstellar object, but more data would help to confirm it."

Source: Small Asteroid or Comet 'Visits' from Beyond the Solar System | NASA

Google's AlphaGo Zero AI is like an "alien civilization inventing its own mathematics"

Google's Latest Self-Learning AI Is Like an "Alien Civilisation Inventing Its Own Mathematics"

The AI that vanquished humanity at perhaps the most complex traditional game on Earth was inconceivably smart. But not smart enough to survive its own replacement by an even more awesome, alien intelligence.

Google's DeepMind researchers have just announced the next evolution of their seemingly indomitable artificial intelligence – AlphaGo Zero.

AlphaGo Zero is entirely self-taught, learning by 100 percent independent experimentation.

In 100 games against Zero, a previous AlphaGo incarnation – which cleaned the floor with us in 2016 – didn't pick up a single win. Not one.

Even more amazingly, that trumping came after just three days of self-play training by AlphaGo Zero, in which it distilled the equivalent of thousands of years of human knowledge of the game.

"It's like an alien civilisation inventing its own mathematics," computer scientist Nick Hynes MIT told Gizmodo."What we're seeing here is a model free from human bias and presuppositions. It can learn whatever it determines is optimal, which may indeed be more nuanced that our own conceptions of the same."

Allow us our moment of silenced awe as we witness the birth of this astonishingly powerful synthetic way of thinking. It might not do what humans can do, but it can do so many things we can't, too.

According to DeepMind, those capabilities will one day soon help Zero - or its inevitable, evolving heirs - figure out things like how biological mechanisms operate, how energy consumption can be reduced, or how new kinds of materials fit together.

Source: Google's latest self-learning AI is like an "alien civilization inventing its own mathematics" - ScienceAlert

Discovery of Hidden Moon Cave Makes it Easier to Build a Lunar Base

Japan says lunar chasm measuring 50km long and 100 metres wide could be used as a base for astronauts and their equipment.

This week scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) confirmed the presence of a cave after examining the hole using radio waves. The chasm, 50km (31 miles) long and 100 metres wide, appears to be structurally sound and its rocks may contain ice or water deposits that could be turned into fuel, according to data sent back by the orbiter, nicknamed Kaguya after the moon princess in a Japanese fairytale.

The agency said the chamber could be used as a base for astronauts and their equipment, because it would protect them from extreme temperatures – ranging from an average of 107C during the day to -153C at night – and radiation from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

The discovery will boost plans by several countries to send astronauts to the moon almost half a century after the Apollo 11 mission.

Jaxa recently announced that it aimed to put a Japanese astronaut on the moon for the first time by around 2030, most likely as part of an international mission.

China has said it wants to conduct its first manned mission to the moon in around 2036 as part of its ambitious lunar and Mars exploration programmes. “Our long-term goal is to explore, land, and settle,” Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China’s moon and Mars missions, told the BBC. “We want a manned lunar landing to stay for longer periods and establish a research base.”

Russia, too, has said it hopes to start building a human colony – initially for just four people – on the moon by 2030.

Source: Discovery of 50km cave raises hopes for human colonisation of moon | Science | The Guardian

This computer is a native citizen of the multiverse

The ultra-powerful machine has the potential to disrupt everything from science and medicine to national security.

There is no quick explanation of quantum mechanics, but the Cliffs Notes version goes something like this: Scientists have proved that atoms can exist in two states at once, a phenomenon called superposition. A single atom, for example, can be in two locations at the same time.

Superposition gets even stranger as it scales. Because everything is made of atoms, some physicists theorize that entire objects can exist in multiple dimensions, allowing—as Neven suggested—for the possibility of parallel universes.

Scientists have proved the theory repeatedly and conclusively.


Inside Google’s Santa Barbara, Calif. lab, where the company’s delicate quantum chips sit frozen in a cryostat suspended off the floor.
Inside Google’s Santa Barbara, Calif. lab, where the company’s delicate quantum chips sit frozen in a cryostat suspended off the floor.

These laws are behind the next revolution in computing. In a small lab outside Santa Barbara, Calif., stocked with surfboards, wetsuits and acoustic guitars, Neven and two dozen Google physicists and engineers are harnessing quantum mechanics to build a computer of potentially astonishing power.

A reliable, large-scale quantum computer could transform industries from AI to chemistry, accelerating machine learning and engineering new materials, chemicals and drugs.

“If this works, it will change the world and how things are done,” says physicist Vijay Pande, a partner at Silicon Valley venture firm Andreessen Horowitz, which has funded quantum-computing start-up Rigetti Computing.

Others, especially those in academia, take a more nuanced view.

“It isn’t just a faster computer of the kind that we’re used to. It’s a fundamentally new way of harnessing nature to do computations,” says Scott Aaronson, the head of the Quantum Information Center at the University of Texas at Austin. “People ask, ‘Well, is it a thousand times faster? Is it a million times faster?’ It all depends on the application. It could do things in a minute that we don’t know how to do classically in the age of the universe. For other types of tests, a quantum computer probably helps you only modestly or, in some cases, not at all.”

Companies and governments are scrambling to prepare for what some call Y2Q, the year a large-scale, accurate quantum computer arrives, which some experts peg at roughly 2026. When that happens, our most closely guarded digital secrets could become vulnerable.

For now, Neven’s team in Southern California is racing to finish the 49-qubit chip that they hope will carry them to quantum supremacy and into a new frontier of technology, where computers leverage unthinkably complex natural laws rather than converting the world into ones and zeros.

“There is no transistor in this computer,” Neven says. “It’s a completely different beast. It’s a native citizen of the multiverse.”

Source: How Google’s Quantum Computer Could Change the World - WSJ

Humanity is Entering a Confusing Time: the Age of the Bizarrely Intelligent Robots

Interacting with other humans is hard enough for most of us. How on Earth can we get along with awkward, unfeeling robots? By being prepared, that’s how.

Welcome to the world of human-robot interaction, in which people have to adapt to the machines as much as the machines have to adapt to us.

Robots need to figure out ways to engender trust. And that brings us to an ethical quandary: What happens when robots begin to take advantage of that trust?

Plenty of robots, especially those meant for the home, will be mighty charming. In the near term, they'll act more like pets, following us around and keeping us company.

In the long term, they'll get better and better at manipulating our world, doing things like lifting the elderly out of bed. That may seem affectionate, but a robot can’t genuinely return your affection; its love is a calculation, not an emotion.

It’s only a matter of time before a robotmaker figures out how to exploit that nonreciprocal relationship.This will be particularly problematic for children and the elderly, who may not understand the nature of their robotic bond.

Source: You Aren't Ready for the Weirdness of Working With Robots | WIRED

Deep in the Ice Pack, a Massive, Mysterious  Hole Has Opened in Antarctica

A hole as large as Lake Superior or the state of Maine has opened up in Antarctica, and scientists aren't sure why it's there.

The gigantic, mysterious hole "is quite remarkable," atmospheric physicist Kent Moore, a professor at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus, told Motherboard over the phone.

Areas of open water surrounded by sea ice, such as this one, are known as polynias. They form in coastal regions of Antarctica.

What's strange here, though, is that this polynia is "deep in the ice pack."

This is hundreds of kilometres from the ice edge. If we didn't have a satellite, we wouldn't know it was there.")

A polynia was observed in the same location, in Antarctica's Weddell Sea, in the 1970s. Back then, scientists' observation tools weren't nearly as good, so that hole remained largely unstudied. Then it went away for four decades, until last year, when it reopened for a few weeks. Now it's back again.

"This is now the second year in a row it's opened after 40 years of not being there," Moore said. (It opened around September 9.) "We're still trying to figure out what's going on."

Scientists can say with certainty that the polynia will have a wider impact on the oceans. "Once the sea ice melts back, you have this huge temperature contrast between the ocean and the atmosphere," Moore explained. "It can start driving convection." Denser, colder water sinks to the bottom of the ocean, while warmer water comes to the surface, "which can keep the polynia open once it starts," he said.

Antarctica is undergoing massive changes right now, and figuring out why a gaping hole could suddenly open up will be key to understanding larger systems at play.

Source: A Giant, Mysterious Hole Has Opened Up in Antarctica - Motherboard

Dolphins that co-operate with humans have a unique accent

Dolphins that cooperate with artisanal fishermen in Laguna, Brazil sound different than their independent counterparts, new study finds.

But while the humans are united, the dolphin community is divided. Only some of the population cooperate with fishers in this manner.

Scientists discovered that the ones that work with people form their own cohesive social network, separate from the other dolphins in the area. “The cooperative fishery appears to have influenced the structuring of this bottlenose dolphin population into social communities,” explain Bianca Romeu and her colleagues at Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina in a new paper this month in the journal Ethology. Their latest work reveals the depth of this rift: the cooperative dolphins don’t just behave differently, they communicate differently, too.

Other cetacean communities with explicit social structures have shown similar communicational differences. Specific sounds help killer and sperm whales navigate the complex social relationships of their matrilineal societies, for example. But it’s unclear why the dolphins that hunt with the artisanal fishers have this distinct dolphin accent. “Our attempts to infer causes of the acoustic distinction and function of these social sounds remain speculative at the moment,” the authors say.

Given the overall importance of language to intelligent, social animals, one can’t help but wonder if this slight divergence is the beginning of something much bigger. Killer whale species, which hunt different prey, are distinguished in part by acoustic differences.

Perhaps with evolutionary hindsight— of thousands of years from now—our descendants will point to shift in dialect as the first essential step that led the cooperative dolphins down a divergent evolutionary path.

Source: Whistling While They Work: Cooperative Laguna Dolphins Have A Unique Accent - Science Sushi

Researchers built a working robot from digestible parts

Researchers from the Swiss federal polytechnic school in Lausanne presented a robot at last week’s International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Canada that is made entirely of edible materials, IEEE Spectrum reported.

The robot is based on similar soft robotics concepts being tested by researchers around the world to make machines that can interact with our fragile selves and not crush us—the difference here being that the robot is made out of an entirely edible gelatin and glycerin materials.

Everything, from the gripping fingers, through to the sensors, batteries, and transistors, is digestible.

It promises a future where we could swallow smaller bots that could repair us from the inside. Or perhaps the robot equivalent of a roto-rooter for our insides. These materials are also biodegradable, meaning robots that could be disposable in the future, or even as the researchers’ paper says, “food transportation where the robot does not require additional payload because the robot is the food,” IEEE pointed out.

Source: EPFL researchers built a robot that you can eat for IROS 2017 — Quartz

Woman records internet camera spying on her, creepily whispering ‘Hola señorita’

A couple of months ago, Rilana Hamer from the Netherlands bought a small internet-connected camera from a local convenience store. She wanted to use the device to keep an eye on her puppy while away from the house. But it wasn’t only the puppy that was being watched.

“I thought I was going crazy,” the spooked woman said in a Facebook post. “I suddenly heard sounds in the living room. I walked up there and saw my camera move.”

“You connect it to your Wi-Fi and plug it into your power outlet. With a password on it and a safe installation, I could keep an eye on my house (I hoped). You can operate it on your phone and listen to what’s happening in your home. This was perfect.”

While the woman initially ignored the tool’s faulty behavior, she was prompted to take a second look after it continued to make noises. This is when she went back to the living room only to find the camera addressing her directly: “Bonjour madame,” it whispered.

Startled by the mysterious voice, Rilana responded: “Hi, is anyone there?” She moved around left and right, and surely the camera followed suit.

“Bonjour madame, tout bien avec vous,” the camera murmered again. This is when the woman pulled the plug and shoved the device back in the box.

“I was full of fear and thought I was crazy,” Rilana said in a  Facebook post.

Eventually, the woman decided to turn on the camera one more time, armed with her camera phone in hand this time around. This is when the camera hummed creepily, “Hola señorita.”

This is hardly the first time internet-connected cameras have been caught surreptitiously spying on their owners.Back in 2016, US-based manufacturer Genesis Toys was accused of distributing toys that secretly recorded every sound they can pick up and later sold it to third-party advertising and marketing firms.

Obviously, things get a bit more troubling when the device is watching and recording your every move. Scary stuff.

Source: Woman films her internet-connected camera whispering ‘Hola señorita’

Why We Should Know if Aliens Exist Within the Next 17 Years

The search for alien technology is about to get much more efficient. I’ve bet a cup of coffee to any and all that by 2035 we’ll have evidence of E.T.

But my hopeful feeling is not wishful thinking; it is firmly grounded in the logic of SETI. Half a century sounds like a long time, but the search is truly in its early days. Given the current state of SETI efforts and abilities, I feel that we’re on the cusp of learning something truly revolutionary.


We have been searching for narrow-band signals. “Narrow-band” means that a large fraction of the transmitter power is squeezed into a tiny part of the radio dial, making the transmission easier to find. This is analogous to the way a laser pointer, despite having only a few milliwatts of power, nonetheless looks bright because the energy is concentrated into a narrow wavelength range.

If you subscribe to the conventional view that extraterrestrials will most likely be ensconced on planets or moons, then it’s better to devote precious telescope time to examining nearby star systems.

We are going down a list of 20,000 small stars that are prime candidates for hosting habitable planets. These ruddy runts are both numerous and, on average, old. Most have been around for billions of years, the time it took life on Earth to evolve from microscopic slime to high-tech hominids. Astronomers estimate that roughly one-half of all red dwarfs might have a rocky world in the habitable zone, where temperatures would abide liquid water.

Read the rest on Nautilus:  Why We’ll Have Evidence of Aliens—If They Exist—By 2035