Tag Archives: computing

When Einstein Walked with Gödel – Jim Holt


When Einstein Walked with Gödel

Excursions to the Edge of Thought

Jim Holt

Genre: Essays

Price: $14.99

Publish Date: May 15, 2018

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Seller: Macmillan

From Jim Holt, the New York Times bestselling author of Why Does the World Exist? , comes an entertaining and accessible guide to the most profound scientific and mathematical ideas of recent centuries in When Einstein Walked with Gödel : Excursions to the Edge of Thought . Does time exist? What is infinity? Why do mirrors reverse left and right but not up and down? In this scintillating collection, Holt explores the human mind, the cosmos, and the thinkers who’ve tried to encompass the latter with the former. With his trademark clarity and humor, Holt probes the mysteries of quantum mechanics, the quest for the foundations of mathematics, and the nature of logic and truth. Along the way, he offers intimate biographical sketches of celebrated and neglected thinkers, from the physicist Emmy Noether to the computing pioneer Alan Turing and the discoverer of fractals, Benoit Mandelbrot. Holt offers a painless and playful introduction to many of our most beautiful but least understood ideas, from Einsteinian relativity to string theory, and also invites us to consider why the greatest logician of the twentieth century believed the U.S. Constitution contained a terrible contradiction—and whether the universe truly has a future.

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When Einstein Walked with Gödel – Jim Holt

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Watch this insanely cool simulation of deep Antarctic water

Watch this insanely cool simulation of deep Antarctic water

By on 24 Nov 2015commentsShare

We begin with Raijin, the Shinto god of thunder, lightning, and storms.

No, seriously — that’s what Australian researchers named the supercomputer that they used to make this incredibly detailed simulation of what’s going on at the bottom of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. That cold, dark abyss — no, not that one — may seem remote and hard to understand, but it’s actually a key player in Earth’s response to climate change.

It should come as no surprise that the surface water around Antarctica is very cold. What might be more surprising is that it’s also very salty. That’s because, when sea ice forms, it rejects salt back into the surrounding water. The resulting cold, salty water is very dense and thus cascades down to the bottom of the ocean, where it spreads out. Here’s more from a press release about why this matters:

The movement of this dense water is vital. It is the most oxygenated water in the deep ocean and its extreme density and coldness drive many of the significant currents in the major ocean basins connected to the Southern Ocean.

The distinctly different densities of water that move around Antarctica also make it important in regards to climate change. Because the most dense water forms near the surface, close to Antarctica before descending to the ocean floor, any warming that occurs near the surface can be drawn down into the deep ocean.

Importantly, this drives more heat and more carbon into the deep ocean that would otherwise have returned to the atmosphere.

It took Raijin seven hours to process every one second of this nearly four-minute animation. According to Andy Hogg, a professor of earth sciences at Australia National University and lead researcher behind the simulation, it was well worth the computing power: “Being able to actually see how the bottom water moves in three dimensions rather than just looking at numerical, two-dimensional outputs has already opened new areas for scientific research,” he said in the press release.

Personally, my favorite part of the simulation comes at the 3:05 mark, where it looks like South Africa is blowing smoke rings. But really, the whole thing is pretty cool and will surely help scientists understand this largely mysterious part of the world. It seems only fitting that such a simulation would come from Raijin, a deity who in Japanese mythology is both feared and respected for his control over nature.

Japanese mythology also says that children should cover their belly buttons during thunderstorms, lest Raijin eat their tummies. Do with that what you will.


Big data reveals glorious animation of Antarctic bottom water

, ARC Center of Excellence for Climate System Science.



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Watch this insanely cool simulation of deep Antarctic water

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Predicting the climate is hard. So one scientist wants to cut corners

supermodel problems

Predicting the climate is hard. So one scientist wants to cut corners

By on 12 May 2015commentsShare

Computer scientist Krishna Palem says we should make climate models less “exact.”

Think of it like making a bed: You can meticulously even out, fold, and tuck everything in all the right places — or you can just roughly flatten the sheet and blanket before throwing on the comforter, and it all looks the same in the end. Right, mom?

The problem with current climate models is that they already take an insane amount of computing power, and they’re still inadequate. The most meticulous, high-powered number crunching is still unable to capture local, small-scale processes like cloud formation. So the basic idea of Palem’s “inexact computing” is that, in certain circumstances, computers can afford to skimp on accuracy in order to save on time and energy. Here’s more from The New York Times:

Current climate models used with supercomputers have cell sizes of about 100 kilometers, representing the climate for that area of Earth’s surface. To more accurately predict the long-term impact of climate change will require shrinking the cell size to just a single kilometer. Such a model would require more than 200 million cells and roughly three weeks to compute one simulation of climate change over a century.

What scientists really need to run such absurdly large simulations are entirely new supercomputers — ones that can handle a billion billion calculations per second:

Such machines will need to be more than 100 times faster than today’s most powerful supercomputers, and ironically, such an effort to better understand the threat of climate change could actually contribute to global warming. If such a computer were built using today’s technologies, a so-called exascale computer would consume electricity equivalent to 200,000 homes and might cost $20 million or more annually to operate.

Well, shit … what was that about corner-cutting alternatives?

Dr. Palem says his method offers a simple and straightforward path around the energy bottleneck. By stripping away the transistors that are used to add accuracy, it will be possible to cut the energy demands of calculating while increasing performance speeds, he claims.

His low-power crusade has recently attracted followers among some climate scientists. “Scientific calculations like weather and climate modeling are generally, inherently inexact,” Dr. Palem said. “We’ve shown that using inexact computation techniques need not degrade the quality of the weather-climate simulation.”

Indeed, in a paper published last year, Palem and his colleagues showed that a mini model of atmospheric dynamics still worked when they ran it with inexact computing. Palem is now looking for money to test the method on full-scale climate models.

Of course, some people will always insist that inexact computing — like half-assedly made beds — is inadequate. Here’s hoping climate saboteurs stick with their “I’m not a scientist” schtick on this one and resist taking cheap shots at something they truly don’t understand.

A Climate-Modeling Strategy That Won’t Hurt the Climate

, The New York Times.



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Predicting the climate is hard. So one scientist wants to cut corners

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Robots Get Their Own Internet

Meet Robby the Robot, who totally doesn’t look anything like the Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet. Photo: RoboEarth

Rapyuta. Remember that name. That is the name of a new shadow internet intended only for robots, designed by the international organization RoboEarth. Rapyuta is a cloud-computing engine, designed to let robots share the things they learn about the world with each other and to offload computational tasks to far more powerful computers allowing them to solve problems more complicated than they ever could on their own. The mind-melding system, says New York Magazine, won’t bring about the end of humanity, because its creators say so.

[Rapyuta] sounds fine in theory — if you trust robots. But for those convinced that providing robots with a common brain will only hasten the arrival of the robot uprising against mankind, then Rapyuta is more like a dark harbinger of the apocalypse. We happen to be one of those people, so we reached out to Dr. Heico Sandee, RoboEarth’s program manager at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, to reassure us that Rapyuta will not lead to our destruction.

“That is indeed an important point to be addressed,” Sandee acknowledged in an-email. But he assured us that robots will use Rapyuta for no such thing.

I mean, just look at this helpful promotional video released by the people at RoboEarth:

“Meet Robby the Robot,” says a soothing female voice. “One morning, Robby decides to try something new. The RoboEarth cloud engine.” “With the RoboEarth cloud engine, Robby can now take on many more tasks around the house instead of only making breakfast.”

But, sure. Just because robots will be able to coordinate and share and think beyond their means doesn’t mean much—they’ll still only really be able to do the tasks that some human, somewhere, programmed them to do.

But wait!

Wired‘s Danger Room reports that the Pentagon’s advanced research projects division is “readying a nearly four-year project to boost artificial intelligence systems by building machines that can teach themselves.”

[T]the agency thinks we can build machines that learn and evolve, using algorithms — “probabilistic programming” — to parse through vast amounts of data and select the best of it. After that, the machine learns to repeat the process and do it better.

The task is hard, but that’s the goal. Self-educating robots. (Feeding into the global robot consciousness.)

But maybe, says Wired, the worry comes not from robots learning to think and teach and desire for themselves, but rather in what would happen should our robot friends learn to control these new machinae.

[W]ith all the paranoia about machines, we’ve ignored another possibility: Animals learn to control robots and decide it’s their turn to rule the planet. This would be even more dangerous than dolphins evolving opposable thumbs. And the first signs of this coming threat are already starting to appear in laboratories around the world where robots are being driven by birds, trained by moths and controlled by the minds of monkeys.

But even still, says xkcd’s Randall Munroe,  the odds of a successful robot uprising (even with all these advances) are pretty slim (at least given the current state of things).

More from Smithsonian.com:

NASA Uses Interplanetary Internet to Control Robot in Germany
Robot Apocalypse Inches Closer as Machines Learn To Install Solar Panels

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Robots Get Their Own Internet

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