Sunday, March 20, 2011

Calculator implants in the brain could happen today

The problem with our memory is that it is fuzzy, and it changes.

My grandma memorized a poem in her youth. The older she got, the more unmemorized that poem became. It was cute and endearing when she recited most of the poem in a somewhat jumbled fashion, but by the time I heard it, it was never a verbatim recitation. I'm sure she had that poem completely memorized for probably about twenty years of her life, before her memory started to unwind itself.

As far as I know, every single part of our brains is subject to change. That's cool, because that means that it's theoretically possible to rewire our brains in any way that we want to, and change ourselves in any way that we want to. That's uncool, though, because that means that nothing is ever for certain, and that everything in our heads may change at any time.

Here's a way to test this yourself. Count backward from 100 to 1 by threes, so 100, 97, 94, 91, and so on until you get to one. Do it again and again, and you'll notice something. You end up with a different ending number almost every time. We've all been adding and subtracting by threes since we were about five, so why can't we do a relatively simple math task like that perfectly every time? It's because no part of our brain is fixed and permanent.

I heard once that math is the most useless skill to have. Sure, it's important that 1% of our population knows math really well, but in reality, most of us don't need to know math at all. If you really need a math equation solved, you can just google it, and if you really need an answer to a math problem that google can't solve, you can just ask someone who's good in math.

The problem with math is that you have to spend years memorizing a bunch of boring stuff just to have math be any use at all, and we have very simple calculators with reliable formulas inside that bypass the need for any math memorization and really make the need for learning math obsolete.

But, what if our brains all included an unchangeable calculator? Maybe math wouldn't be so useless then.

If we could just think and instantly figure out the probability of beating the dealer in blackjack with our current hand, then maybe math would be worthwhile.

If we had math so integrated into our brains, that we could shoot pool, and know for 100% certain where the balls were going to go, then maybe math would be worthwhile.

If we could go to the grocery store and instantly be able to figure out which stuff is the cheapest per ounce, then maybe math would be worthwhile.

Calculator implants in the brain should be relatively easy to do. They're already implanting computers into the brains of paraplegics to allow them to move stuff with their thoughts. And I'm sure that a basic calculator is much, much less complicated than wireless robot technology, because even a relatively complex calculator is only about 5 kilobytes of information. That's just as much information as is in the text of this article, which is not much. You'd probably only need to connect the tiny calculator in and out of the brain with a couple of connections, which means it would be a relatively simple surgery.

Why a calculator? Because it's the best combination of simplicity and usefulness in something that we could program and permanently put in our heads

The cool thing will be once our brains start to rewire themselves around the implanted calculator. Then we could do some truly amazing things, that would only be indirectly related to math but would use the brain math calculator heavily. Pro golfers could hit holes in one almost every time. Bowling wouldn't be the super frustrating sport that it is today. Poker would be elevated to a whole new level. You'd be able to tell if a piece of furniture would fit through a door before you moved it up the stairs. You'd never accidentally mess up a recipe you were doubling. And, finally, math would get some credit.

All of this can happen with something the size of a piece of glitter in our heads.

Boring math calculations for the size of a brain calculator:

  • A Blu-ray disc weighs about 20 grams, has a surface area of 113 cm^2, and contains about 50 gigabytes of information. 
  • You can make a simple calculator with 5 kilobytes of information. 
  • With current technology, it would be possible to make a calculator that weighs 1.9 micrograms and is 32x32 micrometers wide. 
  • That's a square where one side is a little smaller than the width of your hair, or like a super small piece of glitter, so basically this calculator would be so small you couldn't see it, unless it was glittery.

Photo purchased from istockphoto.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Venusforming‭ ‬Earth

There‭ ‬are‭ ‬microbes‭ ‬that‭ ‬exist‭ ‬in‭ ‬200+‭ ‬degree‭ ‬temperatures‭ ‬in‭ ‬sea‭ ‬volcanoes‭ ‬here‭ ‬on‭ ‬Earth,‭ ‬so‭ ‬it‭'‬s‭ ‬not‭ ‬unthinkable‭ ‬that‭ ‬something‭'‬s‭ ‬alive‭ ‬on‭ ‬Venus.‭ ‬But‭ ‬if‭ ‬it‭ ‬is‭ ‬alive,‭ ‬it‭'‬s‭ ‬definitely‭ ‬different‭ ‬than‭ ‬us.

If‭ ‬there‭ ‬were‭ ‬life‭ ‬on‭ ‬Venus,‭ ‬then‭ ‬it‭ ‬would‭ ‬have‭ ‬to‭ ‬survive‭ ‬in‭ ‬the‭ ‬tough‭ ‬Venusian‭ ‬environment.

Venus‭ ‬is‭ ‬completely‭ ‬uninhabitable‭ ‬for‭ ‬us‭ ‬humans,‭ ‬for‭ ‬a‭ ‬few‭ ‬reasons.
  • Days ‏on‭ ‬Venus‭ ‬last‭ ‬243‭ ‬days,‭ ‬meaning‭ ‬nights‭ ‬would‭ ‬be‭ ‬worse‭ ‬than‭ ‬winters‭ ‬in‭ ‬Alaska
  • There‎'‏s‭ ‬no‭ ‬magnetic‭ ‬field‭ ‬on‭ ‬Venus,‭ ‬so‭ ‬your‭ ‬compass‭ ‬wouldn‭'‬t‭ ‬work,‭ ‬plus‭ ‬you‭'‬d‭ ‬get‭ ‬radiated‭ ‬to‭ ‬death‭ ‬by‭ ‬solar‭ ‬flares‭ ‬a‭ ‬few‭ ‬times‭ ‬a‭ ‬month
  • The‎ ‏atmosphere‭ ‬is‭ ‬96%‭ ‬carbon‭ ‬dioxide‭ ‬and‭ ‬about‭ ‬0%‭ ‬oxygen,‭ ‬so‭ ‬you‭ ‬couldn‭'‬t‭ ‬breathe
  • The atmospheric pressure on the surface of Venus is 90 times more than earth (90 atms), so you'd be crushed to death just by the air
  • Oh,‎ ‏and‭ ‬it‭'‬s‭ ‬over‭ ‬400‭ ‬degrees‭ ‬there.‭ ‬So‭ ‬your‭ ‬egg‭ ‬would‭ ‬fry‭ ‬before‭ ‬you‭ ‬could‭ ‬crack‭ ‬it,‭ ‬which‭ ‬means‭ ‬you‭ ‬could‭ ‬only‭ ‬get‭ ‬hard-boiled‭ ‬eggs‭ ‬on‭ ‬Venus.‭ ‬Plus‭ ‬you‭ ‬would‭ ‬melt‭ ‬like‭ ‬a‭ ‬marshmallow‭ ‬in‭ ‬a‭ ‬microwave.
This gave me an idea for what I think would be an interesting story, so fast‭ ‬forward‭ ‬to:

March‭ ‬2015:‭ ‬Scientists‭ ‬discover‭ ‬a‭ ‬ginormous‭ ‬asteroid‭ ‬about‭ ‬as‭ ‬far‭ ‬away‭ ‬from the Earth as‭ ‬Jupiter is,‭ ‬but it's headed‭ ‬directly‭ ‬toward‭ ‬Venus.‭ ‬It‭ ‬will‭ ‬pass‭ ‬by‭ ‬far‭ ‬from‭ ‬earth,‭ ‬but‭ ‬it‭ ‬appears‭ ‬that‭ ‬it‭'‬s‭ ‬headed‭ ‬on‭ ‬a‭ ‬direct‭ ‬collision‭ ‬course‭ ‬with‭ ‬Venus.‭ ‬Most‭ ‬news‭ ‬stories‭ ‬focus‭ ‬on‭ ‬whether‭ ‬or‭ ‬not‭ ‬the‭ ‬resulting‭ ‬Venusian‭ ‬dust‭ ‬cloud‭ ‬from‭ ‬the Venus‭ ‬impact‭ ‬will‭ ‬affect‭ ‬Earth,‭ even though the‭ ‬projected‭ ‬path‭ ‬of‭ ‬the‭ ‬asteroid‭ ‬is‭ ‬far‭ ‬from‭ ‬Earth.‭ ‬Some‭ ‬enviro-friendly‭ ‬people‭ ‬suggest‭ ‬that‭ ‬we‭ ‬do‭ ‬something‭ ‬to‭ ‬alter‭ ‬the‭ ‬course‭ ‬of‭ ‬the‭ ‬asteroid,‭ ‬but‭ ‬the‭ ‬President‭ ‬of‭ ‬the‭ ‬US‭ ‬announces‭ ‬that‭ ‬we‭ ‬won‭'‬t‭ ‬do‭ ‬anything‭ ‬about‭ ‬it,‭ ‬because‭ ‬it‭ ‬won‭'‬t‭ ‬impact‭ ‬earth‭ ‬and‭ ‬it‭ ‬would‭ ‬be‭ ‬too‭ ‬expensive‭ ‬to‭ ‬do‭ ‬something‭.‭  (‬This‭ ‬shows‭ ‬that‭ ‬we‭ ‬humans‭ ‬are‭ ‬insensitive‭ ‬to‭ ‬stuff‭ ‬that‭ ‬doesn‭'‬t‭ ‬affect‭ ‬us.‭)

November,‭ ‬2015: (six months later)‭ ‬A‭ ‬few‭ ‬weeks‭ ‬before‭ ‬impact‭ ‬with‭ ‬Venus,‭ ‬the‭ ‬asteroid‭ ‬starts‭ ‬reacting‭ ‬to‭ ‬what‭ ‬seems‭ ‬to‭ ‬be‭ ‬an‭ ‬anti-gravitational‭ ‬or‭ ‬magnetic‭ ‬force‭ ‬emanating‭ ‬from‭ ‬the‭ ‬Venus.‭ ‬The‭ ‬planet‭ ‬Venus‭ ‬appears‭ ‬to‭ ‬be‭ ‬magnetically‭ ‬affecting‭ ‬the‭ ‬asteroid.‭ ‬This‭ ‬is‭ ‬somewhat‭ ‬ironic,‭ ‬since‭ ‬Venus‭ ‬doesn‭'‬t‭ ‬have‭ ‬magnetic‭ ‬poles,‭ ‬like‭ ‬Earth.‭ ‬The‭ ‬asteroid‭ ‬barely‭ ‬clears‭ ‬Venus,‭ ‬skimming‭ ‬its‭ ‬atmosphere,‭ ‬and‭ ‬unexpectedly‭ ‬hurls‭ ‬back,‭ ‬directly‭ ‬toward‭ ‬earth.‭

This‭ ‬time,‭ ‬we‭ ‬do‭ ‬everything‭ ‬possible‭ ‬to‭ ‬stop‭ ‬the‭ ‬asteroid.‭ ‬Scientists‭ ‬project‭ ‬it‭ ‬will‭ ‬land‭ ‬on‭ ‬Los‭ ‬Angeles,‭ ‬and‭ ‬this‭ ‬will‭ ‬be‭ ‬a‭ ‬dinosaur-extinction-level‭ ‬asteroid‭ ‬disaster.

January,‭ ‬2016: (two months later)‭ ‬Everything‭ ‬we‭ ‬shoot‭ ‬at‭ ‬the‭ ‬asteroid‭ ‬gets‭ ‬deflected‭ ‬around‭ ‬it.‭ ‬We‭ ‬try‭ ‬a‭ ‬bunch‭ ‬of‭ ‬stuff,‭ ‬like‭ ‬in‭ ‬that‭ ‬movie,‭ ‬but‭ ‬we‭'‬re‭ ‬thwarted‭ ‬at‭ ‬every‭ ‬turn,‭ ‬by‭ ‬what‭ ‬seems‭ ‬to‭ ‬be‭ ‬an‭ ‬invisible‭ ‬force‭ ‬emanating‭ ‬from‭ ‬the‭ ‬asteroid.‭ ‬The‭ ‬asteroid‭ ‬starts‭ ‬gradually‭ ‬changing‭ ‬its‭ ‬course,‭ ‬so‭ ‬that‭ ‬the‭ ‬new‭ ‬projected‭ ‬impact‭ ‬point‭ ‬is‭ ‬anywhere‭ ‬between‭ ‬LA‭ ‬and‭ ‬Japan,‭ ‬and‭ ‬this‭ ‬is‭ ‬hotly‭ ‬debated‭ ‬by‭ ‬different‭ ‬scientists‭ ‬and‭ ‬astronomers.‭ ‬We‭ ‬start‭ ‬preparing‭ ‬the‭ ‬coastal‭ ‬cities‭ ‬for‭ ‬the‭ ‬worst‭ ‬tidal‭ ‬waves‭ ‬ever.

March,‭ ‬2016: (two months later)‭ ‬Right‭ ‬before‭ ‬the‭ ‬asteroid‭ ‬impacted‭ ‬Earth,‭ ‬it‭ ‬did‭ ‬some‭ ‬really‭ ‬weird‭ ‬stuff‭ ‬with‭ ‬its‭ ‬impact‭ ‬angle,‭ ‬and‭ ‬started‭ ‬spinning‭ ‬really,‭ ‬really‭ ‬quickly.‭ ‬Scientists‭ ‬were‭ ‬able‭ ‬to‭ ‬develop‭ ‬mathematical‭ ‬models‭ ‬for‭ ‬how‭ ‬the‭ ‬asteroid‭ ‬strangely‭ ‬behaved,‭ ‬so‭ ‬everyone‭ ‬still‭ ‬thinks‭ ‬the‭ ‬asteroid‭ ‬is‭ ‬a‭ ‬natural‭ ‬phenomenon.‭ ‬When‭ ‬it‭ ‬impacted,‭ ‬it‭ ‬hit‭ ‬Hawaii,‭ ‬but‭ ‬because‭ ‬of‭ ‬its‭ ‬spin,‭ ‬it‭ ‬had‭ ‬a‭ ‬ricocheting‭ ‬effect,‭ ‬so‭ ‬it‭ ‬actually‭ ‬hit‭ ‬and‭ ‬re-hit‭ ‬the‭ ‬earth,‭ ‬causing‭ ‬what‭ ‬felt‭ ‬like‭ ‬earthquake‭ ‬after‭ ‬earthquake,‭ ‬felt‭ ‬worldwide,‭ ‬for‭ ‬about‭ ‬two‭ ‬days.‭ ‬During‭ ‬the‭ ‬two‭ ‬days‭ ‬of‭ ‬earthquakes,‭ ‬everyone‭ ‬is‭ ‬pressed‭ ‬up‭ ‬against‭ ‬a‭ ‬wall,‭ ‬if‭ ‬they‭'‬re‭ ‬inside.‭ ‬Stuff‭ ‬outside‭ ‬that‭ ‬wasn‭'‬t‭ ‬nailed‭ ‬down‭ ‬moves ‬dozens‭ ‬and‭ ‬sometimes‭ ‬hundreds‭ ‬of‭ ‬miles‭ ‬away.

Three‭ ‬days‭ ‬later:‭ Very‭ ‬surprisingly,‭ ‬most‭ ‬buildings‭ ‬are‭ ‬still‭ ‬standing,‭ ‬almost‭ ‬everyone‭ ‬is‭ ‬still‭ ‬alive.‭ ‬The‭ ‬tidal‭ ‬waves‭ ‬ended‭ ‬up‭ ‬not ‬being‭ ‬all‭ ‬that‭ ‬bad,‭ ‬either.‭ ‬New‭ ‬Orleans‭ ‬got‭ ‬the‭ ‬worst‭ ‬of‭ ‬it,‭ ‬since‭ ‬they‭ ‬never‭ ‬put‭ ‬great‭ ‬levies‭ ‬in‭ ‬there.‭ ‬True,‭ ‬it‭'‬s‭ ‬the‭ ‬worst‭ ‬natural‭ ‬disaster‭ ‬since‭ ‬probably‭ ‬when‭ ‬the‭ ‬dinosaurs‭ ‬got‭ ‬destroyed,‭ ‬so‭ ‬things‭ ‬are‭ ‬pretty‭ ‬bad,‭ ‬but‭ ‬almost‭ ‬everyone‭ ‬is‭ ‬thankful‭ ‬they‭'‬re‭ ‬still‭ ‬alive.

The‭ ‬weird‭ ‬thing‭ ‬is‭ ‬that‭ ‬the‭ ‬sun‭ ‬never‭ ‬sets.‭ (‬At‭ ‬least‭ ‬for‭ ‬us‭ ‬Americans.‭)

May,‭ ‬2016:‭ (two months later) ‬After‭ ‬we‭ ‬get‭ ‬the‭ ‬power‭ ‬back‭ ‬on,‭ ‬we‭ ‬realize‭ ‬that‭ ‬the‭ ‬only‭ ‬real‭ ‬impact‭ ‬of‭ ‬the‭ ‬asteroid‭ ‬was‭ Earth‭'‬s‭ ‬rotation‭ ‬has‭ ‬been‭ ‬slowed‭ ‬to‭ ‬a‭ ‬crawl.‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬that‭ ‬and‭ ‬a‭ ‬huge‭ ‬volcano‭ ‬close‭ ‬to‭ ‬the‭ ‬north‭ ‬pole‭ ‬that‭'‬s‭ ‬now‭ ‬even‭ ‬taller‭ ‬than‭ ‬Mount‭ ‬Everest,‭ ‬due‭ ‬to‭ ‬shifting‭ ‬of‭ ‬the‭ ‬tectonic‭ ‬plates,‭ ‬scientists‭ ‬say.‭ ‬The‭ ‬equator,‭ ‬which‭ ‬used‭ ‬to‭ ‬rotate‭ ‬at‭ ‬over‭ ‬a‭ ‬thousand‭ ‬miles‭ ‬per‭ ‬hour,‭ ‬now‭ ‬only‭ ‬rotates‭ ‬at‭ ‬about‭ ‬6‭ ‬miles‭ ‬an‭ ‬hour.‭ ‬This‭ ‬means‭ ‬a‭ ‬new‭ ‬day‭ ‬will‭ ‬last‭ ‬about‭ ‬a‭ ‬year.

Needless‭ ‬to‭ ‬say,‭ ‬GPS‭ ‬devices‭ ‬no‭ ‬longer‭ ‬work.

May,‭ ‬2018: (two years later)

The‭ ‬new‭ ‬volcano,‭ ‬which‭ ‬we‭ ‬called‭ ‬Mount‭ ‬Vesuvius,‭ ‬put‭ ‬a‭ ‬bunch‭ ‬of‭ ‬stuff‭ ‬into‭ ‬the‭ ‬atmosphere,‭ ‬so‭ ‬that‭ ‬scientists‭ ‬say‭ ‬that‭'‬s‭ ‬why‭ ‬the‭ ‬days‭ ‬don‭'‬t‭ ‬boil‭ ‬us‭ ‬and‭ ‬the‭ ‬nights‭ ‬don‭'‬t‭ ‬freeze‭ ‬us.‭ ‬Plus‭ ‬as‭ ‬a‭ ‬weird‭ ‬aftereffect,‭ ‬the‭ ‬winds‭ ‬in‭ ‬the‭ ‬upper‭ ‬atmosphere‭ ‬blow‭ ‬almost‭ ‬a‭ ‬thousand‭ ‬miles‭ ‬an‭ ‬hour,‭ ‬even‭ ‬though‭ ‬winds‭ ‬on‭ ‬the‭ ‬surface‭ ‬have‭ ‬slowed‭ ‬down‭ ‬considerably.

Life‭ ‬is‭ ‬pretty‭ ‬much‭ ‬the‭ ‬same‭ ‬except‭ ‬days‭ ‬last‭ ‬130‭ ‬days.‭ ‬And‭ ‬nights‭ ‬last‭ ‬130‭ ‬days‭ ‬also.‭ ‬So‭ ‬most‭ ‬of‭ ‬the‭ ‬technological‭ ‬development‭ ‬of‭ ‬the‭ ‬last‭ ‬two‭ ‬years‭ ‬was‭ ‬focused‭ ‬on‭ ‬how‭ ‬we‭ ‬can‭ ‬grow‭ ‬food‭ ‬on‭ ‬the‭ ‬bright‭ ‬side‭ ‬of‭ ‬the‭ ‬world‭ ‬and‭ ‬transport‭ ‬it‭ ‬to‭ ‬the‭ ‬dark‭ ‬side‭ ‬of‭ ‬the‭ ‬world.

This‭ ‬is‭ ‬also‭ ‬the‭ ‬same‭ ‬month‭ ‬we‭ ‬discover‭ ‬another‭ ‬asteroid‭ ‬headed‭ ‬on‭ ‬a‭ ‬collision‭ ‬course‭ ‬with‭ ‬Venus.

May‭ ‬2019: (one year later)

The‭ ‬same‭ ‬thing‭ ‬happens‭ ‬with‭ ‬this‭ ‬asteroid‭ ‬as‭ ‬with‭ ‬the‭ ‬first‭ ‬one. It barely misses Venus, skimming its surface, and turns back on a collision course for Earth.‭ ‬The‭ ‬only‭ ‬difference‭ is this‭ ‬one‭ ‬misses‭ the ‬Earth‭ ‬and‭ ‬becomes a‭ ‬secondary‭ ‬satellite‭ ‬to‭ ‬our‭ ‬planet. The effect of this satellite is that 95% of the time, the Earth’s magnetic field is neutralized.

Solar flares severely affect Earth now. People don’t want to go outside, because skin gets fried pretty easily now, and electrical stuff only works about half the time.

June 2019: (one month later)

It’s pretty obvious now that these two asteroids weren’t accidents, and something in Venus is trying to transform Earth into a Venus-like environment. We react to this in just about every way possible. The people who have been saying this since the first asteroid hit instantly become celebrities. We start sending peace messages to Venus. India launches a nuke at Venus, but before it hits, some force pushes it so the bomb goes around Venus and heads toward the dead of space. People start praying to the gods and goddesses of Venus.

June 2025: (six years later)

Life has been pretty much the same for years. Lots of people died, because of the problems of transporting food around the globe, but we fixed enough of them so most of the Earth’s population is still alive.

In this month, where Hawaii once was, this massive bubbling, or boiling comes up out of the water. We find that it’s ice-cold carbon dioxide vapor, and that something or someone is turning the oceans and the biomass in the oceans into carbon dioxide and this kind of salt-like substance.

September 2025: (three months later)
The carbon dioxide vapor has kept coming, so much that it’s very hard to breath, so almost everyone who can afford it is wearing supplemental oxygen devices. The atmospheric pressure is rising rapidly, and so are the carbon dioxide levels, but surprisingly because the vapor steaming out of the ocean is super cold, it stabilizes the Earth's temperature. So the temperature has basically been the same as it always has. So much for all of the greenhouse effect warnings we heard over the years. We’d stopped trying to make contact with Venus the last few years, but with the carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere, everyone starts trying to make contact with Venus again.

December 2025: (three months later)
The temperature starts to rapidly rise, because of a massive greenhouse effect. We try to stop the oceans from boiling, but find that it’s being done by this kind of indestructible nanotechnology that will turn pretty much anything into carbon dioxide. Most people think that the Venusians just can’t see us, and so we focus most efforts on experimental technologies and communication methods, trying to tell the Venusians that we’re alive and we want to keep living.

January 2026: (one month later)
We start to die, some from heat, some from lack of oxygen, some from being pressurized to death, and some from starvation. We did shoot a few pods off into space with cryogenically frozen humans in hopes of preserving humanity, and also so this story isn’t ultimately depressing.

January 2126: (ten years later)
Venusforming of Earth is complete.

January 2226: (one hundred years later)
Venus explodes.

January 4226: (two thousand years later)
Beneficent and advanced aliens find the pods and construct a new Earth for us. Or at least for the ten humans they saved from the pods.

The End.

This is a plot outline of a movie I think would be cool. Hopefully someone takes it and turns it into a book or a movie. If you need a moral, it’s that maybe we should be thinking now about how life might exist in forms that are much different than us. Almost all of us believe we have souls that are alive, yet those souls are as strange and elusive as the aliens in my story who couldn’t see us and we couldn’t see them.


Photo purchased from istockphoto.
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