Va va vacuum
Like many people who have difficulty distinguishing science fact from fiction, Feedback is anticipating with trepidation the rise of the sentient machines. We see the story recently reported by the BBC, “Robot vacuum cleaner escapes from Cambridge Travelodge”, as a kind of low-budget prequel.
“The automated cleaner failed to stop at the front door of the hotel in Orchard Park in Cambridge on Thursday, and was still on the loose the following day,” the article informs us, emphasising the point made by observers, sensibly hiding on social media, that robotic vacuum cleaners have no natural predators in the wild.
Nature also abhors a vacuum, of course. Fortunately, the Cambridge incident had a happy ending: the errant sweeper was “found under a hedge on Friday”. A mere test run, we fear. As is traditional, we would like to take this opportunity to state that we, for one, welcome our new robot vacuum cleaner overlords.
Big. Very big.
“Asteroid bigger than Carrauntoohil to soar past Earth tonight,” boomed the Irish Examiner on 18 January, in a clipping sent by Stuart Neilson. “Named 7482 (1994 PC1), the asteroid is more than a kilometre wide at 1,052m and is just about bigger than Ireland’s highest peak, Carrauntoohil which is 1,038m tall.”
For those still struggling with just how big that is, never fear. “Its size means it is also bigger than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai which, at 830m, is the world’s tallest building,” we further read.
So pretty big, then. “Most asteroids that whizz past the Earth are about the size of a family car. They’re not terribly big but this one is not the size of a family car, it’s the size of Carrauntoohil,” space commentator Leo Enright added helpfully. Our only open question now is how big is a family car in Burj Khalifas.
Mind that gravity
“Is the Hubble crisis connected with the extinction of dinosaurs?” enquires physicist Leandros Perivolaropoulos at the University of Ioannina, Greece, in a paper recently added to the arXiv preprint server, meriting an immediate induction into our pile of “questions we had not thought to ask”.
To back up some 13.8 billion years: the Hubble crisis (we paraphrase, slightly) is the fact that if you look at what the universe was doing very far over there in the dim and distant, and then work out what it should be doing over here now, what it is actually doing now is different, meaning something naughty must have happened when our backs were turned.
Something like, we don’t know, someone pressing a taped-over button on a control panel saying “do not touch” and inadvertently increasing the strength of gravity rather suddenly about 100 million years ago.
Stuff happens. The point is, had this increase actually occurred, it might explain the Hubble crisis and also, according to Perivolaropoulos’s calculations, have discombobulated the outer solar system sufficiently to have sent a load more space rocks careering towards Earth. This might have included the one that came steaming in flying a dino skull and crossbones flag some 66 million years ago.
We like this idea, on the basis that no one is going to tell us it isn’t true. And on the scale of cosmic conspiracies, this is hardly the largest. Everything is connected to everything else, after all, which is why we are going to go out on a limb and say it was actually the big bang that did for the dinosaurs.
A hop, skip and a jump across the Ionian Sea away, meanwhile, Theodore Andronikos and Michael Stefanidakis at the Ionian University on Corfu consider how a quantum parliament would work, also on the arXiv server.
Why, you may ask. The way things are going right now, we might counter: why not? Yet despite staring very hard at the paper for some time, our answer is somewhat indeterminate. The premise is replacing a system in which party loyalty dictates how legislators vote with a “free will radius” that can take any value from 0, for total loyalty, to 1, for total independence, running it through a quantum voting system and then seeing what happens.
Answer: it depends. But why stop there? What if not just quantum voting systems are employed, the authors muse, but voters, parties, politicians and bills themselves become quantum? “This is a fundamental question of a rather philosophical nature that is probably very hard to answer and, in our view, it deserves further consideration,” they write. We add it to our pile of ones we never thought to ask. Or not.
The covid-jabbed may find out sooner than we thought, if US anti-vaxxer Sherri Tenpenny is to be believed, an assertion to which we prophylactically assign a classical truth value of 0. “Remember this term, because you’re going to hear a lot of it in the next year: quantum entanglement,” she avers in a clip circulating on Twitter. “From a physics perspective, what happens when you take that shot in? There’s all this entangling that goes on, and what the artificial intelligence hooking you up to the Google credit scores and all of the dematrix and all of those things.”
Not only that, Sherri, it unleashes the robot vacuum cleaners, too. If this is the best we can come up with, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Got a story for Feedback?
Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or New Scientist, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT
Consideration of items sent in the post will be delayed