There are way too many news to notice, but this month, three struck me as truly noteworthy. Since one of them confirms a prediction made a century ago, I couldn't help musing over the possible reactions of a contemporary of Einstein (let's call him Niels). What would Niels think when reading these headlines:
A century ago, Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves as a consequence of his theory of general relativity. This week, gravitational waves have been detected by the two observatories of the advanced LIGO experiment. The collaps of a massive double quasar, which we now understand to be a merger of a binary black hole, stretched and squeezed earth by a few femtometers, just enough be be observable.
Chess is the domain of the machine since about 20 years. Go, with its enormous complexity, was long thought to be out of reach of even today's computational power. That has turned out be wrong: deep learning neural networks have recently outwitted a European champion. Can they defeat the top players too? We will know in March.
People love to be in their own little world. I see that every morning and evening in the subway, where everyone is glued to a smartphone connecting to Facebook and WhatEver and powering the all important Dr. Dre headphones to escape the bland, perhaps sometimes dismal reality. For the(se) people, the industry now has the ultimate solution.
What would Niels think? As an educated person, he wouldn't be too surprised about the existence of gravitational waves. Sure, he would be amazed by the accuracy of the LIGO measurements, and shocked by the concept of a black hole. But otherwise, he'd be cool.
Niels wouldn't have even heard about artificial intelligence. And defeating human beings? I'm not sure whether he'd like that. Still, being an intelligent guy, he would be able to grasp the concept and accept it within a short time.
Social networks and virtual reality? I feel that Niels would have great difficulties in understanding these concepts. I have them myself. ;) But perhaps he would learn to love them, after getting used to them? I doubt that very much, but that's just antisocial me.