The heart of the LHC is more than science

The heart of the LHC is more than science

Summary: Cern's Large Hadron Collider is science at its biggest. It is also profoundly human

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

Anyone planning and implementing a large IT project will, and must, be aware of the dangers of failure.

A proper understanding of risk management makes an opportunity profitable, and you cannot manage what you do not know. But few people can ever have had the total physical destruction of the planet on the list of direct consequences of getting things wrong.

Fortunately for Cern's chief technology officer, Sverre Jarp, that risk is far smaller than anything the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will ever measure. The upside of the experiment, however, will be far larger than mere science.

The experiment itself mirrors such thoughts. The actual physics happens at the infinitesimal point of collision, and the cubic metres of space and matter through which the quantum debris punches. Everything from there onwards is information engineering, with the data pouring into a planetary storage and analysis system quite beyond the reach of journalistic superlatives. The end result of the physics will change our conception of reality; the end result of the IT will have its own profound effects.

Humans have co-evolved with technology. It's our primary attribute as a species. Neanderthal man had efficient tools, little changed over thousands of years. Homo sapiens' tools show constant development, coinciding with cultural and practical developments. It seems that 'good enough' has never been, well, good enough.

The same will be true of the LHC's IT. The expertise evolved in developing its IT systems will be sorely needed in mainstream technology; we are moving towards a world where our computers will habitually monitor enormous amounts of data and share their findings, in the small parts of life, as well as the large. In IT, above all, the big science of today becomes everyday life tomorrow.

But LHC stands for more than that. It is proof of the transformative potential of imagination first, and IT second; what you can do when you have big ideas, clear goals and the determination to make the tools do the job. Too often in enterprise IT — and elsewhere in human affairs — the tools set the agenda and soak up all the energy, time and money that should be spent on doing the real job.

The LHC will stand as proof that we can move beyond such restrictive thoughts; that we can create truly wonderful things — big and small — if we let ourselves. Medieval people had cathedrals that moved their souls but produced mostly bishops. We may count ourselves lucky that our modern cathedrals, for all they lie buried underground, are capable of so much more.

Topic: Emerging Tech

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  • CERN FIASCO Revisited -the end of the world

    CERN Fiasco - the end of the world is nigh postmortem
    It appears that the Media did frightened the people to death with the notion that yesterday the world might have ended. I had numerous calls over the last week from family and contacts asking what will happen on Wednesday 10th Sept. I told them absolutely nothing. In fact some people who I had considered previously level-headed were literally unhinged about the whole matter.
    But the worst part of this media hype is that the collision of protons does not actually happen until around the start of October. Therefore in their quest to sell newspapers they have literally conned the people with misinformation, as yesterday was no more than switching on the electrical systems and testing if protons would travel the 17 miles long system at CERN with no hiccups.
    When October comes, the Media will again most likely frighten everyone to death again, just in the quest to sell their goods. Isn't it time therefore that the Media got their facts right and apologized to the people who they have conned through misinformation - their readers. Indeed one guy had a letter posted in the Guardian stating that it was their last publication. Therefore one has to ask, has the Guardian also lost its marbles?
    Unfortunately one tragic outcome of all this that has emerged is a young woman in India committed suicide convinced that the world would end on Wednesday. Although her father tried his best she poisoned herself in the early hours of the same day. One life is too much. The Media should learn and not have the deaths of any person on their hands. But the question has to be asked, how many more actually took their lives through this blatant misinformation
  • Evolution

    One might hope anyone sufficiently unhinged as to take their own life to prevent it ending through the collapse of the earth in a black hole would do so before having offspring. The average IQ of the species would thus rise ever so slightly...

    If the world is going to end I want to be there to see it. What is to be gained by checking out early? I cannot believe this is a justification for suppressing news, regardless of how sensational. Yes, the end of the world sells papers. LHC stories also help familiarize people with science, and science understanding is clearly minimal--especially if people are snuffing themselves out of ignorance. I have marked September 10th in my electronic calendar is "Big Bang" day, and hope to commemorate this day with celebrations and noisy fireworks.
  • Media Misinformation is bad, truthful knowledge is good for humankind !

    I am not against knowledge but against simply hysteria and hype born out of misinformation by the 'Media'. Please note that there is a big difference between truthful knowledge and knowledge derived for the sole purpose of personal financial gain at the expense of others. It is called sheer greed ! The Media were wrong here and they should know it.

    Dr David Hill
    World Innovation Foundation Charity (WIFC)
    Bern, Switzerland