#AtoZChallenge – Multiverse, as if one weren’t big enough

Time for M in my Sci-Fi themed A-to-Z Challenge!

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One of the earliest uses of the word multiverse in science fiction is in The Sundered Worlds, by Michael Moorcock, published in 1963. It is the hypothetical set of all universes, the many possible realities that may co-exist. Certain aspects of quantum physics might be explained if every possible outcome of an event is equally valid (whatever can happen does happen; reality is constantly branching off into alternate, independent parallels). You have probably heard of the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment used to explain this (actually, the whole thing was a bit of a parody – Schrödinger wanted to point out what he saw as absurd assumptions of quantum physics).

What Could Have Been

In science-fiction, the idea is taken to some interesting extremes. Authors imagine realities where the Axis won WW2, where the Roman Empire never fell, or where the dinosaur-killing asteroid missed the Earth. Some stories have characters traveling between alternate universes as a sort of “sideways” time travel that lets them check out other possibilities.

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Sliding through realities, cast members, network mix-ups, cancellation …

In reality? It’s hard to say. There are scientists who support and those who criticize multiverse theory. We might be in a multiverse and be unable to prove it because we don’t know what to look for! One thing’s for sure, though – we have at least this one, enormous, wonderful universe to play around in, as well as the fantastic multiverses of our minds.


 

More about the possibility of a multiverse:

 

http://www.space.com/31465-is-our-universe-just-one-of-many-in-a-multiverse.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse

 

#AtoZChallenge – Grey goo, the machine apocolypse

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Time for G in my Sci-Fi themed A-to-Z Challenge!

gray-goo-diagram

What happens if a 3D printer can print more 3D printers? Machines that can build copies of themselves are called von Neumann Machines. There has been real-world research into self-replicating machines, but nothing can yet build a perfect copy of itself, by itself.

That’s probably a good thing.

Machines that can build copies of themselves using materials around them could potentially consume all matter! Nanotechnology pioneer Eric Drexler described this possible doomsday scenario in his research,and it has since popped up in various forms in sci-fi. Recently, there’s been a game called Grey Goo involving machines that self-replicate, but I have to admit I haven’t checked it out.

Could such a thing happen?

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Probably not. Drexler himself later conceded that it probably wouldn’t be necessary to build a self-replicating machine. Why go through the trouble of giving a machine the ability to build a copy of itself and perform whatever function it’s actually designed for? Pretty inefficient, actually.

If self-replicating machines were actually needed, they could be built with controls. I’m willing to bet anyone who wants to build such machines would also want a way to turn them off!

 


More about grey goo:

http://science.howstuffworks.com/gray-goo.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_goo

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benderama

 

#AtoZChallenge – Exoskeletons, in sci-fi and now

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Time for E in my Sci-Fi themed A-to-Z Challenge!

For E, I’ll go with something more grounded in reality than yesterday’s post – exoskeletons. Insects, arachnids, and many other invertebrate critters have had exoskeletons for a very long time, giving them some measure of protection against predators. For humans, exoskeletons can serve both medical and military purposes – and both kinds were used in science-fiction before being realized.

starship-troopers

In fiction, the first medical use of a human exoskeleton came around 1968, in A Specter is Haunting Texas, by Fritz Leiber. In this novel, people who grow up in low gravity environments have to wear powered suits when they come to Earth – their bodies are too weak for regular gravity. Powered military armour makes appearances in many works of fiction, perhaps most famously in Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein.

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In the real world, many companies are developing exoskeletons for purposes both benign and military. There are suits designed for heavy lifting, and to help rehabilitate people who have lost mobility. The main problem right now is packing enough battery power into a suit to keep it going for long periods without a power cable.

Oh, that suit pictured above? It’s made by a Japanese company called Cyberdyne, and the suit is called Hal. Way to doom us all, guys …


In my current fiction:

I made an offhand reference to exoskeletons in Far Flung as common equipment used for helping the physically disabled in the future.


More about exoskeletons:

BBC News article about real-world exoskeletons

Wikipedia on exoskeletons

 

 

#AtoZChallenge – Dyson Sphere, a technological near-impossibility

 

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Time for D in my Sci-Fi themed A-to-Z Challenge

For D, I’ll talk about Dyson Spheres. A Dyson Sphere is a completely hypothetical superstructure that would be constructed around a star to capture most or all of the energy radiating from it. The concept actually predates Freeman Dyson’s speculations on highly advanced civilizations, and first appeared way back in 1937 in Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon.

Dyson_sphere_exterior

In sci-fi, the idea is usually represented by a Dyson Shell – a solid shell built around a star. If this were built around a sun like ours, and you wanted to create habitats on the inner surface, it would have a radius of 1 Astronomical Unit – the average distance between Earth and the Sun.

This thing would have a radius of 149,597,870,700 km!

Just think of the vast amounts of materials needed. Oh, and you’d have a gigantic problem – you’d have to put extremely powerful thrusters on the sphere to keep the inner surface at the right distance from the star. If this thing drifts off center, even by a little, things get mighty toasty for anything on the inner surface.

dyson_bubble

More likely, an alien civilization would use a ring or bubble of independent satellites floating around a star. These satellites could be moved close together to capture more energy, and wouldn’t necessarily have to be habitable – they could just be energy collectors.

 


In my current fiction:

No Dyson Spheres in Far Flung yet, but there most certainly will be something similar coming soon. I like the idea way too much …


More about Dyson Spheres:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyson_sphere

http://earthsky.org/space/what-is-a-dyson-sphere

Images:

The Enterprise in orbit around a Dyson Sphere, Memory Alpha

Dyson Bubble, Wikipedia

#AtoZChallenge – Cloaking Device, used by Romulans and Klingons, and soon by real-world military?

Time for C in my Sci-Fi themed A-to-Z Challenge

For C, I’ll talk about cloaking devices. There’s no way I could even begin this discussion without reference to Star Trek!

The Romulans had the first cloaking devices in the original Star Trek episode Balance of Terror – it was devised as a deep-space analog to a submarine submerging. The technology has since been a staple in the various incarnations of Star Trek over the decades. In Star Trek, the technology has ships fade and completely vanish from view.

The fantasy version, of course, has been around for ages longer – from the One Ring of Sauron to Harry Potter’s cloak, there are countless magical ways to vanish from sight.

 

Can you really make something vanish?

Sort of. There are special materials that are used to hide planes and tanks from radar or infrared detection (you can still see these things perfectly well with your naked eye, though). There is also active camouflage, which allows objects to blend into their surroundings by using panels or coating that change their colour and brightness.

^ Keep in mind, however, that news stories like this tell us how such a cloak could work – it’s hard to say if anyone actually has a usable prototype yet.

It’s very likely that some sort of cloaking devices are possible, but to apply it in space would be extra difficult (if not impossible). You see, there a problem of heat – to keep your starship crew alive, you use systems that generate heat. You can’t hide heat! There are laws against that…

So some kinds of invisibility are possible, but it might not be as spectacular or useful as it is in fiction.


In my current fiction:

Shortly after my characters in Far Flung get, well, flung across the universe, they are aided by an alien using a “capture” ship – a space station that has been modified to capture an enemy freighter and deliver it to a secret location. This capture ship is supposed to be able to hide from enemy detection, but things don’t work out that well…

More about cloaking possibilities:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloaking_device

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Active_camouflage

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3500893/Military-tests-Hogwarts-style-device-shields-troops-projecting-surroundings-surface.html

 

#AtoZChallenge – Brain implants, both fictional and real

 

It’s Day 2 of my Sci-Fi Themed A-to-Z-Challenge

For B, I’ll talk about brain implants – neurological devices intended to record information or enhance mental capabilities.

Brain implants exist in the real world, and are used in animal research studies. Such implants have been used to record brain activity far more directly than external electrodes. Animal implants have been used in very scary ways, allowing scientists to control rats! Other research has focused on allowing animals to control devices with their brains – and this technology has made its way to human trials.

Brain implants also have the potential to improve upon the brain. Research is going on now into treating depression with neurological implants, and there may even be ways to improve human memory.

Science-fiction asks “Why stop there?”

One of my favorite uses of brain implants in fiction is in John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. In the story, genetically superior supersoldiers are implanted with implants that have their own Artificial Intelligence. With these implants, you would have an internet-connected computer in your brain! There goes all hope for human productivity!

The most common way brain implants manifest in sci-fi is alongside cybernetic technology. Such implants allow for network connectivity, total memory recall, and vastly improved memory and mental capabilities.  Of course there are just as many downsides – the scariest being the possibility that implants could be used to reduce people to zombie slaves.

Whatever we may think of brain implants, they will likely become an everyday reality – this technology isn’t an if, it’s a when. The rules of who can receive brain implants and what uses are acceptable will have to be decided, and soon!

 


In my current fiction:

I decided my main character in Far Flung would have a brain implant, and had the first alien that he met figure out how to use it to communicate. I hoped to have my own way of dealing with the “universal translator” problem in space exploration sci-fi.

 

More about brain implants:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_implant

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-wireless-mouse-brain-idUSKCN0PY24920150724

 

Images:

Old Man’s War

Ghost in the Shell

Locutus of Borg, Star Trek: The Next Generation

#AtoZChallenge – Ansible, allowing ET to phone home without the wait

Welcome! I very rashly decided to do this A-to-Z business again – but hey, it should be fun.

For A, I’ll talk about ansibles. The term was first used by Ursula K. Le Guin, and has since found its way into many works of science-fiction. Perhaps the most memorable use is in Orson Scott Card’s Ender series, where ansibles figure very heavily into the story.

An ansible is a communication device that allows for instantaneous communication over great distances. For example, if you want to call up a rover on Mars, it can take anywhere from 4 minutes to 24 minutes, depending on the positions of the two planets. With an ansible, you could call it up and get data back from it instantly.

Einstein told us that this can’t happen – information is limited by the speed of light.

Max Speed: 1,079,252,848 km/h  or  670,616,629 mph

Any faster than that, and information would effectively travel backward in time (which, as far as anyone can tell, is impossible). So that’s why ansibles and other ways of FTL communication (like Star Trek’s subspace transmissions) remain in the sci-fi realm.

Now, there might be a way to pull it off with quantum entanglement. The best way to explain this is with a quote from livescience.com:

In quantum physics, entangled particles remain connected so that actions performed on one affect the other, even when separated by great distances. The phenomenon so riled Albert Einstein he called it “spooky action at a distance.”

The rules of quantum physics state that an unobserved photon exists in all possible states simultaneously but, when observed or measured, exhibits only one state.

Spin is depicted here as an axis of rotation, but actual particles do not rotate.

Entanglement occurs when a pair of particles, such as photons, interact physically. A laser beam fired through a certain type of crystal can cause individual photons to be split into pairs of entangled photons.

The photons can be separated by a large distance, hundreds of miles or even more.

When observed, Photon A takes on an up-spin state. Entangled Photon B, though now far away, takes up a state relative to that of Photon A (in this case, a down-spin state). The transfer of state between Photon A and Photon B takes place at a speed of at least 10,000 times the speed of light, possibly even instantaneously, regardless of distance.

So there might be a way to use entangled particles to transmit over distances , but it remains to be seen if usable information can actually be sent this way.


In my current fiction:

I haven’t mentioned any ansibles in Far Flung yet. But hey, the story is made up of logs that are somehow transmitted to Earth, so there must be something similar coming into the story!

More about ansibles and FTL communication possibilities:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ansible

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_entanglement