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Researchers believe aliens could send malware and destroy humanity
by Christopher White
There's no doubt that we have a lot of computer security issues on our planet right now. Ransomware seems to be a daily issue, with new variants constantly being released; hardware issues in CPUs give bad guys the ability to steal your data; and lax security in the "Internet of Things" (IoT) enables bad guys to run denial of service attacks against the biggest companies in the world. However these may be simple annoyances compared to what extraterrestrials could do to our planet's IT infrastructure.
In a paper written by Michael Hippke and John G. Learned, the researchers explain various ways an alien civilization could destroy the world, either intentionally or unintentionally, by embedding code in a message. They speculate that even simple markup languages like TeX and LaTeX could be used maliciously, and highlight the difficulty in decoding the languages manually. In addition, the paper details that an alien AI could begin a negotiation with humanity, in essence social engineering an attack.
One recommended solution is to build a "prison" on the moon, a computer that is used to decode alien messages, but is isolated from other networks and which could be remotely destroyed if necessary. However they go on to say that, "[c]urrent research indicates that even well designed boxes are useless, and a sufficiently intelligent AI will be able to persuade or trick its human keepers into releasing it." While there are no silver bullets to this problem, and the researchers note that the overall risk to humanity is low, it's a topic that can be fun to think about.
This topic is hardly new as there have been many books and movies that explore the concept of malicious invaders. For example, in the movie Species, the SETI project received a transmission with details on how to splice alien DNA with human DNA and the result was mayhem. What other interesting books, movies, and TV shows have you seen that address this topic?
Source: Cornell University via Schneier.com| Image courtesy of Evolving Science
Aliens can wait, the world wants to mine cryptocurrency instead
by Dreyer Smit
If you thought the cryptocurrency mining boom only affected your ability to find a graphics card that is faster than a potato, you'd be wrong. According to a recent report, scientists are hitting a brick wall in trying to secure orders for the hardware they need - that is when they are not getting busted for using Russian supercomputers for mining - to answer one of the most fundamental questions humanity has: are we alone in the universe?
Researchers at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) have recently set out to expand operations at two observatories. However, due to the demand for GPUs, these plans have in part been set on hold. Scientists use GPUs due to its immense computing capability especially when working with large amounts of data. However, for those using them to mine cryptocurrencies, it's a fundamental part of any profitable operation.
According to Dr. Werthimer, this phenomenon has only recently become a problem:
Other scientific institutions have been affected as well. Several expansion plans are under pressure due to the shortage. The Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (HERA) telescope located in South Africa has had to double its budget for GPUs due to rising costs. According to the report, it had aimed to acquire cards that cost around $500 each, however, the price for the same GPU doubled to $1,000.
According to Professor Parsons - who manages the HERA telescope -, it will be able to weather the storm, but the expansion will end up costing around $32,000 more than initially planned. The aforementioned telescope listens to low-frequency radio waves emitted by hydrogen before the first galaxies formed in the early universe.
In the past year alone, gamers have all but formed a mob around AMD and Nvidia's headquarters over the rising costs of hardware. Retailers have reportedly had a tough time keeping stock around long enough so that everyone could get their hands on one at a reasonable price. In the case of the most popular cards - the GTX 1070 Ti, and GTX 1080 Ti - prices have more than doubled. Nvidia recently stepped into action, requesting that retailers curb sales of its cards to miners - who generally purchase more than one - in a bid to appease its gamer base.
The profitability of mining has, however, come under pressure in recent months after the price of Bitcoin dropped from its all-time high of around $20,000 to $9,700.
With rumors of both Nvidia and AMD readying to launch their latest generation of GPUs this year, one would be forgiven to think that this cat and mouse game will continue for as long as mining remains a profitable endeavor.
Source: BBC | Image via Evolving Science
This week in science: Breakthroughs in robotics
by Gabriel Nunes
This week in science is a review of the most interesting scientific news of the past week.
Artistic impression of a molecular robot. Credit: Stuart Jantzen and biocinematics.com. A molecular robot that can build other molecules
The world's first molecular robot capable of building other molecules, besides performing other tasks, was announced by scientists from The University of Manchester in a paper published in the scientific magazine, Nature, last Thursday. Each robot is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen atoms and is just a millionth of a millimeter in size.
In order to perform their basic tasks, the robots are programmed and controlled by the scientists through chemical reactions in special solutions. According to Professor David Leigh, leader of the project:
Professor Leigh and his team expect that within 10 to 20 years molecular robots will be widely used to build molecules and materials on assembly lines in molecular factories. If so, this next industrial revolution would reduce consumption of materials and energy, while also possibly accelerating and improving drug discovery.
Electrically activated soft muscle for soft robotics
Artificial biceps. Credit: Aslan Miriyev & Columbia Engineering. Until now, pneumatic or hydraulic inflation was necessary to create muscle-like structures made of elastomer skins. Such mechanisms require external compressors or high voltage equipment to function, an issue for developing human-like robots. This may soon change, according to a paper published in Nature Communications.
Scientists from Columbia Engineering have developed the first artificial active tissue with intrinsic expansion ability, capable of functioning as a soft muscle due to its high actuation stress and strain properties. The tissue, which is built using a 3D printer, is inspired by living organisms and made of a silicone rubber matrix with ethanol. To actuate, the artificial muscle uses electricity, instead of cumbersome external equipment. According to Aslan Miriyev, lead author of the study:
Artificial muscle before actuation.
Credit: Aslan Miriyev & Columbia Engineering. Artificial muscle after actuation.
Credit: Aslan Miriyev & Columbia Engineering. The new material can expand more than natural muscle, with a strain density 15 times larger. Also, it can lift one thousand times its own weight. Finally, the team of scientists plans to work on improving the muscle’s response time, but in the future, they want to work with artificial intelligence researchers to learn how to control the muscle.
To round off our weekly science wrap up, researchers in Australia have effectively processed information using light. The team was able to send a package of 'data photons' through a waveguide that slows them down and to interact with them using a 'write' pulse. This increases the wavelength of the photons by the desired frequency which turns them into a 'phonon'.
Finally, a SETI scientist has listed seven places where microbial life could be found in space. In the list are Mars, three of the four Galilean moons that orbit around Jupiter, two of Saturn's moons, and Pluto. To find microbial life would be a first step for the SETI Institute in the search of its main goal, which is to find extraterrestrial intelligence.
SETI scientist lists seven places microbial life could be found in space
by Paul Hill
If you go back around a hundred years in time you’ll find that speculation about extraterrestrial life was rampant, much like today. However, in 2017, our expectations of finding life in the solar system are much more measured than they were for our ancestors. No more theories of lakes on Mars dug by the Martian race or Dinosaurs walking on a balmy Venus.
Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, which is currently on the lookout for alien signals coming from the depths of space, has run through the most likely places we will find simple microbial life in our solar system; the list includes places we’re already exploring but also other places we’ve only taken photos of, on flyby missions.
First on the list, is Mars. The red planet is the most extensively searched place that features on the list, we’ve sent crafts to orbit the planet, we’ve landed rovers to learn more about the terrain of the planet and now we are preparing to land people on the surface. Shostak believes there could be life forms hidden under the dusty surface of Mars, about 30 meters down or below, where some liquid water may also be present.
Next up we have three of the four Galilean moons that orbit around Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. Io is a fiery volcano planet so it’s not considered to be particularly hospitable to life, however, the remaining three, Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede have potential. According to Shostak, Europa’s subsurface oceans could host life which might survive using the hotspots at the bottom of the oceans which are like “little mini volcanoes and that would give you energy for life.” Both Ganymede and Callisto also host oceans but Europa remains the most likely place for life.
The next location is Saturn, where two of its moons, Titan and Enceladus, could potentially harbor life. Although less well known than Europa, Enceladus is one of the most likely places where life could be found and it turns out that it’s not so hard to find out either. Shostak said “it’s shooting geysers into space. So you don’t have to land. You don’t have to drill. You just go grab some of [that] geyser gunk and bring it back to Earth and maybe you’ll find aliens.” Titan, on the other hand, has liquid lakes of natural gas, so it could also sustain life.
The final candidate that Shostak put forward was Pluto. We’ve only just got decent pictures of the dwarf planet thanks to a flyby. Shostak hypothesizes that there are pockets of liquid water underneath the surface of Pluto which means it could also host microbial life.
When asked whether we’ll find extraterrestrial intelligent life, Shostak replied that it might be found in the next two decades. “There’s a lot of real estate out there, right? There are a trillion planets in the Milky Way. We can see a trillion other galaxies, each with a trillion planets. If they’re not out there, then all these people behind us are really special.”
It may seem impossible to discover extraterrestrial intelligent life in the next 20 years, but considering the leaps that human technology has made over just the past two decades, it could be possible, or perhaps it's just a hopeful bias.
Source: Futurism | Image via 3D Print
This week in science: first SpaceX military launch for the US, LHC restarted, and more
by Gabriel Nunes
This week in science is a review of the most interesting scientific news of the past week.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching. Source: NPR. SpaceX has landed another rocket after first US military launch
SpaceX has launched its first secretive US government satellite last Monday using one of its Falcon 9 rockets. Known only as NROL-76, the payload belongs to the National Reconnaissance Office, which is responsible for operating US spy satellites.
Monday's launch also marked the fourth successful landing of a Falcon 9's first stage by SpaceX. This achievement is central to the company's plan to recycle rockets in order to decrease the costs of space exploration. In fact, SpaceX has already launched its first recycled rocket late March. As stated by Elon Musk at the time:
SpaceX has also detailed to the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation its plans to build a satellite network capable of delivering gigabit Internet. According to Patricia Cooper, the company's VP of Satellite Government Affairs, the first prototype satellite will be launched before the end of the year, followed by another one during the early months of 2018.
Source: NASA - Hubble Image. What if a prior technological species ever arose in the Solar System?
This is the question Professor Jason Wright, from Penn State, has asked this week in a paper uploaded to the arXiv preprint sever. His paper follows the release of preliminary results from several petabytes of data obtained by the Breakthrough Listen project from Berkeley SETI Research Center.
Projects like Breakthrough Listen typically search for signs from existent extraterrestrial intelligence in the form of possible wave signals emitted by them towards our planet. But Professor Wright suggests we should also look for evidence of alien life forms that are now extinct or may have departed from our solar system, leaving behind evidence of their existence.
It is important to highlight that Professor Wright did not suggest the existence of such forms of life or of any evidence for them. In his article, he discusses possible origins and locations for this kind of evidence of such a prior technological species, considering it might have arisen here on Earth, prior to our existence, or on another body, such as a pre-greenhouse Venus or a wet Mars.
The Large Hadron Collider. Source: Maximilien Brice / CERN. The LHC has resumed for this year's run
After 17 weeks of extended technical stop, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN has restarted circulating beams of protons this week. It took approximately one month for the whole accelerator chain to be turned on, which happened one machine at a time until the LHC itself, which is the final machine in the chain, could be turned on. As stated by Rende Steerenberg, leader of the operations group:
The LHC is shut down for maintenance and upgrades every year during the north hemisphere's winter, but this time it took longer than that to allow some more complex work to be done. Among the changes made were the replacement of a superconducting magnet in the LHC, the installation of a new beam dump in the Super Proton Synchrotron, and a massive cable removal campaign.
Finally, those upgrades were planned to allow the LHC to reach a higher integrated luminosity. Such a parameter measures how much data the experiment can gather, which means more chances to observe rare phenomena on each collision performed. But for now and the following few weeks, only debug and validation experiments will be performed before new physics data can be collected.