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The head of the UN warns the world not to let AI control nuclear weapons

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The head of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, has told everyone not to let artificial intelligence (AI) play a part in the decision to use nuclear weapons.

“Humanity is on a knife’s edge,” Guterres said at a meeting of the Arms Control Association (ACA). He said that the risk of nuclear war was at “heights not seen since the Cold War.”

In his speech, Guterres said, “States are in a qualitative arms race.” “Technologies like artificial intelligence are making things more dangerous, and recklessly threatening a nuclear disaster has come back as nuclear blackmail. At the same time, the rules that are supposed to stop people from using, testing, and spreading nuclear weapons are getting weaker.” “Dear friends, we need to stop having weapons now.”

The Secretary-General told all countries to give up their weapons, and those that already have nuclear weapons should lead the way.

“I also urge the United States and the Russian Federation to get back to the negotiating table, fully implement the new START treaty, and agree on its successor,” he said. “Until these weapons are eliminated, all countries must agree that any decision on nuclear use is made by humans, not machines or algorithms.”

That last part might sound like a threat from a long way off, but automation did play a role in the Cold War.

A “dead hand” system that made sure the Soviet Union would be completely destroyed by a nuclear blast watched for signs that a nuclear weapon had been fired at the superpower by checking for earthquakes, radiation levels, and changes in air pressure. If the system picked up on such a strike, it would check to see if there were open lines of communication between top Soviet officials.

If they were, it would shut down after 15 minutes because there would still be people alive who could decide to launch a strike. If the lines were down, lower-level operators of the dead-hand system would be given the power to launch nuclear weapons. They would be kept safe in a bunker, and the fate of the world would be in the hands of a lower-level officer and a computer system.

You can tell this was never turned on because you’re still alive. On September 26, 1983, however, a system for finding missiles seemed to have picked up five nuclear missiles heading toward the Soviet Union. Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet military officer, didn’t believe that the attack had been found and wouldn’t tell the Soviet command to launch a response. The detection was actually caused by the sun’s glare reflecting off of clouds high in the sky. From satellite data, it looked like there might have been a strike.

It might not be a good idea to use algorithms or AI to make decisions that could wipe out all of humanity. They might have already killed everyone if they had had their way with clouds.

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

Technology

Hold on tight! Tiny “scooters” are being driven by microscopic algae

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Biological microorganisms use little energy, multiply quickly, and move on their own. Because of this, they are perfect for powering biohybrid machines. Scientists have now made the first micromotors that run on algae. You thought animals driving cars were cool? Wait until you see this.

This is a green alga with only one cell. Its name is Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. They can swim 100 micrometers per second thanks to their two long flagella, which are the tails of cells. That’s pretty fast for something that’s only 10 micrometers long. This made student Naoto Shimizu and his co-authors want to try to use their skills more effectively by putting a harness on them.

Two tiny machines that Haruka Oda and her coworkers made will use C. reinhardtii as their power source. The machines have tiny baskets (10 micrometers across, or 1/100th of a millimeter across!) that catch the algae. The cell can still move its flagella because the basket holds it in place. The baskets are connected to each other, which makes several people work together without meaning to. This is needed to make enough thrust to move a mechanism bigger than a single cell.

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One is a “scooter,” and the other is a “rotator.” Four algae are in baskets at the ends of four arms in the rotator. The middle algae is pinned down. The algae could spin the rotator at 20 to 40 micrometers per second when they were swimming quickly.

 

GIF of microscopic green algae "driving" a rotating micromachine with four baskets around the outside

The harder part has been making a biohybrid machine that can move in a straight line. Ratchets were used to line up the motion in earlier designs that used different biological microorganisms, but this made it hard for the machines to move. That scooter just showed up.

It looks more like a Star Wars podracer. Two algae that face the same direction can move the small vehicle forward, if possible in a straight line. When the algae pushed the scooter to twist, turn, and tumble, it did even stranger things. This is likely because it’s not attached to anything (like the rotator) and the two drivers aren’t putting equal amounts of force on it.

black and white microscope gif of spherical algae cells "driving" a micromachine that consists of a box attached to two baskets forming a rough triangle shape

The two biohybrid machines made from algae are opening the door to new ways to make powerful vehicles. In a press release, senior author of the study and professor Shoji Takeuchi from the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo said, “These methods could develop into a technology that can be used for environmental monitoring in aquatic environments and for substance transport using microorganisms, such as moving pollutants or nutrients in water.”

The study was written up in the journal Small.

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Physics

Light is the fastest thing that can “move” across a surface

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Einstein’s theory of special relativity says that it is impossible to move faster than light in a vacuum.

Things that don’t have mass have to move at the speed of light. But things that do have mass can’t get close to 299,792,458 meters per second (983,571,056 feet per second) without using up all of their energy. Physicists and sci-fi authors have tried to get around this by using concepts like the warp drive. But it’s likely that these will be illegal because of those pesky physics laws. Traveling faster than light can cause paradoxes that break the rules of the universe.

You are not in a dark room, though, because there is something in this room right now that can slow down or stop light. It is possible for shadows to go faster than light, and they can even smash through it.

You might ask things like, “What the hell are you talking about?” Imagine that you have a flashlight that is strong enough to light up some of the moon. If you quickly move your finger across the front of the flashlight, the shadow it casts can move across the moon’s surface at speeds much faster than light.

If you wave a laser across the night sky, you can get the same kind of effect. Think of a huge dome that is, say, 100 light-years across and surrounds you. When this laser hits that dome 100 years from now, the points will fly across it at speeds much faster than light.

But these two examples are just tricks.

Astrophysicist Michio Kaku told Big Think, “There is no message, no net information, and no physical object that actually moves along this image. There is only the image of the beam as it races across the night sky.”

No, the laser point isn’t really moving. What you’re seeing are photons hitting the dome and then different photons hitting a different part of the dome 100 years later after you moved your laser.

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The universe and physics stayed the same because nothing really moved faster than light, and no information was sent.

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Space Exploration

Someone in high school builds a model rocket that can land vertically, like a Falcon 9 Booster

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After three years of hard work, a high school student has finished a big project: making a model rocket that lands vertically.

It’s really rocket science to say that landing a rocket vertically is not easy. And SpaceX will tell you that they have blown up many a rocket stage while trying to land rocket boosters. But sometimes they do land before they blow up.

A student named Aryan Kapoor started building his own vertical lander in August 2021. At the end of May 2024, he finally hit the ground.

In a video for his YouTube channel JRD Propulsion, Kapoor said, “This rocket works differently than other model rockets of its kind.” “My rockets don’t have fins to keep them stable; instead, they use thrust vector control.” Thrust vector control lets the rocket’s engine move like a gimbal, giving the pilot control over the rocket’s path in space.

Even more impressive is the fact that software controls the rocket’s flight on its own.

“To guide the rocket, a flight computer makes all inflight decisions, such as steering the rocket and deciding when to ignite the landing motor.”

The onboard barometer gave the wrong reading of the rocket’s altitude during its first test flight in 2023. Kapoor wrote on his JRD Propulsion website, “The rocket did well in all other ways and collected useful data.” “Future flights will use only the accelerometer to measure altitude, providing much higher accuracy and precision.”

On his fifth attempt, Kapoor has landed successfully once more.

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