Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Friday 25/11/2005Much as astronomers build new and ever more powerful telescopes to push into the darkness at the edge of science, I must adjust my own perceptions of ridiculousness to cope with this week's news. For a start, there's Dr Richard Carrigan, a particle physicist from the Fermi labs in the US.

Friday 25/11/2005

Much as astronomers build new and ever more powerful telescopes to push into the darkness at the edge of science, I must adjust my own perceptions of ridiculousness to cope with this week's news.

For a start, there's Dr Richard Carrigan, a particle physicist from the Fermi labs in the US. Particle physicists are a peculiar breed, but he sounds something special. He's decided that there is a Great Danger for All Mankind in SETI@Home, because those signals we're all decoding might contains some evil virus that will trash the world's networks. Thus, he wants people who write SETI software to include a firewall to check for this before attempting to descramble the data.

I have never heard such woofery in all my puff. First, the stuff is just data. You can't execute it. You can only scan it and look for patterns. Second, how on earth are you going to look for an alien virus without, well, scanning it and looking for patterns? Finally, what are the chances of any malicious alien deciding that the best thing to do to Planet Earth is to infect our PCs — instead of, oh, blowing us up or steering an asteroid at us or making us think that converting our entire global hydrocarbon stocks to gaseous carbon dioxide is a good idea?

Then there's BreathCapture.Com — which, as far as I can ascertain, is a small jar you get someone to breathe into and then keep. It's being patented, of course.

And finally, there's time travel as a type of quantum computation. This is based on physics that allows for time travel into the past and back again without breaking the rules of causality or faster-than-light communication through something called a closed timelike curve. A report on Rod van Meter's blog has many, many more details than I can possibly understand, including great throw-away lines like "Teleportation using time displaced entanglement appears equivalent to a stochastic time machine. These experiments are hard, but not too hard."

The best bit about that last one is that it might actually work: quantum computing is going through a growth spurt where new ideas are appearing so fast that by the time you've spotted a problem with one, it's obsolete anyway. Now, all I have to do is work out how to entangle this text with a quantum particle so I can relativistically accelerate it back to lunchtime, and I can spend the rest of the afternoon in the pub instead of writing it.

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