Columns, Opinion

KAZI: When hadrons collide

Every year, there’s a big science brouhaha so that people who don’t know science can get excited about science. In my junior year (2003), I was all woohoo! about the invention of a meat tree. That’s a tree that bears steak instead of fruit. You peel an orange and it’s meatball dinner!

Turns out that it wasn’t true. Weekly World News lied to me. Oh well. Last year, we had the Large Hadron Collider which, amazingly enough, was not a misprint in a YMCA gym brochure (this joke is so old.) At first, we were excited about molecules colliding, my pal Jarett Kobek was excited about the Large Hadron, but then it turned out that they got a molecule wrong somewhere, and $70 billion had to be scrapped. They’re building a replacement molecule now. The Large Hadron’s rented out to Dr. Manhattan for the ‘Watchmen’ movie. Did you see the size of it? And it wasn’t even a Hadron!

I keenly follow science news. Why, you ask? Well, my life started going downhill the day I turned 13. I’ve got nothing but wish-fulfillment fantasies and an unwillingness to accept reality as it is. I daily scour the night sky for space captains who will hand me a joystick and a towel. I’ll say, ’42.’ We’ll understand each other perfectly. But the chances of that happening are improbable. You could power a spaceship with that kind of improbability, if spaceships could run on improbability, which is not likely.

This last week saw three stories break. One’s of human interest, one’s wry social commentary and the last is actual science-worthy. Human interest: parents in China have been arrested for creating elaborate mechanisms to help their children cheat for college entrance exams. Technology comes in where they show a wonderfully entrepreneurial spirit in digital convergence: it’s a hell-for-leather rollick-fest of tiny earpieces, miniature scanners, all the good stuff. But I’m on a word limit here. Go read the BBC.

Wry social commentary: the Championship Gaming Series, part zoo, part terrarium of shame, has been shut down. More than 100 salaried video game players are now back in retail. Emmanuel Rodriguez, the last Starfighter, Commander Keen of the living room, said he ‘still believed in gaming.’ He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he gave it up. Well, duh! How can you expect a king who rides a lion to work to settle for a scooter with a broken wheel? This man was an ELF. How can he go back to being just a man?

Sometimes, the world moves in such a way that I think that if Dr. Manhattan of the mighty blue schlong and superpowers were real, he’d just sit around drooling and making panda bears.

But there’s always a silver lining. This is where warp speeds and nanotubes come in: there’s a computer at Cornell University that can figure out natural laws from external data. It worked out Newton’s laws of motion in just a few hours. I know, I know, been there, done that. Can you imagine though what happens when this magical machine starts working on stuff that we don’t know, does more vague stuff that I don’t know how it works but then in the end gives us The Future? I’m talking about time travel and robot butlers, bunky! This is the stuff!

It’s a long way before it learns to love or act in a Johnnie Walker commercial. I’ll be gone down and turned into worm farms before it battles humanity for Earth. But even I know one thing: all you need to do is create just one of these, and you’ve done your job. Why? Because technically this can learn, and if it can learn and invent from that knowledge, that means it can evolve. And if it can evolve, there it is. Today, it’s yeast DNA; tomorrow, it’s invading Uranus.

Such power. However, I’m afraid that we’re going to become the joke planet in the Interplanetary Federation. We have the coolest use of a technogizmo outside of James Bond, but it’s used for parents helping their kids cheat. We create immersive universes and detailed storylines and simulate complete worlds with their individual physics and biology, but it becomes a slacker’s excuse for not getting an education. With the power of this ‘Eureka machine,’ as it’s called, we’ll probably get space invaders from Mars. Not for conquest but as retaliation for Joe the Plumber selling knives on space TV. Ray Bradbury was wrong after all.

One hopes. Realistically, there’s nothing to worry about. Remember how they talked about the Large Hadron Collider ripping up space-time with its black holes? Well, it’s come and gone, but the only black hole I ever saw was the gaping vacuum of Emmanuel Rodriguez’s sense of entitlement.

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