Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 5

The History of Science and Technology

By Hannu Rajaniemi

We are made from very small things and we live in a very very big universe and the
small things are so small and the big things are so big that you might think we have no
hope of ever understanding them but I'm going to argue that in fact we already
understand them quite well it's the world in between the big and the small the world we
live in that we don't understand and in fact that world is becoming harder and harder to
understand because we keep discovering more complexity and creating more
complexity and that's something we have to face if we want to solve our biggest
challenges but let's start in the beginning I want to tell you how we came to understand
the big that's my background I studied physics and cosmology and it also has to do with
where I grew up I grew up in a town called Olivia's got in Finland where you get about
four hours of daylight during the day so whenever I walked home from school it would
be dark and I would look at the stars and it's the stars that really tell you how big the
universe is stars are very big as bigger bigger as our Sun only very very far away and
there are so many of them even with the naked eye you can see ten thousand stars
now ten thousand is a big number but it's still a comprehensible number if each star was
a grain of sand ten thousand would be about three teaspoons of sand so that's not so
bad but of course we don't look at the stars with the naked eye anymore we use
telescopes and already a hundred years ago around 1900 astronomers had good
telescopes and they could see over a million stars now a million stars is a lot but it's still
a comprehensible number it's about a bucket of sand and in fact those astronomers
were pretty sure that that was it that there were about a million stars in the universe
except for these funny smudges they had seen in their photographs and they called
them spiral nebulae and nobody knew what those we're and it took a computer to figure
out what those actually we're a human computer called Henriette believe it because
back then a computer was what you called a woman doing calculations for scientists
now leave it was paid ten dollars a week to analyze photographs of stars and she was
deaf but she had a very very good eye and she spotted a pattern in the brightness of
stars that gave her a new way to actually figure out how far away stars we're and he
died of cancer very young but I was able to publish her finding but couldn't see it applied
and it was Edwin Hubble who later said that leave it should have really won the Nobel
Prize who used her method to look at those spiral nebulae and what he found was that
they were much much much further away millions of times further away than anyone
had ever thought in fact they were galaxies galaxies just like our Milky Way systems of
hundreds of billions of stars and we now know that the visible universe has hundreds of
billions of galaxies so it's not just a bucket of sand it's not a million stars it's seven times
10 to the power of 22 stars now again if each star was a grain of sand that would be all
the sand in all the desert sand beaches and sand boxes on earth times ten thousand
ten thousand wells of sand so in less than a hundred years that's how much our
understanding of the universe has grown from three teaspoons to ten thousand Wells of
sand and actually it's even worse because Hubble showed that the universe is getting
bigger and bigger all those galaxies are moving away from each other at tremendous
speed so you may wonder how could we ever figure out what was going on and what
what what where all those stars came from now fortunately Einstein came along and
Einstein came up with a theory of relativity that says that space is really just distances
between points and those distances change depending on what you have between
those points he came up with equations that tell us how space itself changes when
matter and energy move around in it and his equations work extremely well so well
that's all the phones in your phones use GPS which is based on Einstein's equations an
Einstein's equations predicted an expanding universe and at first we thought he'd made
a mistake but then he found out about Hubble's discovery and we now know that the
universe has been expanding for 13.8 billion years that means it actually started out
very very small smaller than an atom and we call the moment the expansion started the
Big Bang now we still don't know exactly what happened at the very instant of the Big
Bang but thanks to Einstein we do know how the universe got to be so big and we know
that little ripples tiny little ripples in that early universe grew with the universe into seeds
that became stars and galaxies so we do know where stars came from now one of
Einstein's equations had really big implications not just for big things but also for small
things and that's his most famous equation Z equals MC squared what does it mean
well e means energy M is mass and C squared is speed of light squared light travels
very very fast so C squared is an enormous number almost as big as the number of all
the grains of sand in the world and that means that even the tiniest amount of matter
even an atom has a tremendous amount of energy so let's talk about atoms and let's
talk about small things how small are atoms now if you remember that tremendous
number of stars in the universe we have the same number of atoms in just three drops
of water so it's quite amazing that we can understand in all and for a long time we
thought atoms where the smallest thing there was but in 1898 Marie Curie discovered
an element called radium and radium was constantly radiating so much energy that it
couldn't possibly come from reactions between atoms and people could really excited
about radium science fiction writer HT wells thought that it could be a source of infinite
power for a utopian society some people got maybe a little bit too excited and too
carried away and started putting radium in products like chocolate and face cream and
and other things something we now know wouldn't would it be a good idea now Mary
Curie I did something a bit better she was able to use radium to treat cancer so if he
pioneered radiation therapy but she herself got exposed so much radiation that she
eventually died of anemia and even her cookbook to this day is harmful radioactive but
he lived long enough to see what was really going on with radium and she suspected
that there might be something going on inside atoms something that was converting
matter into energy like Einsteins equation implied and he was right in 1911 Ernest
Rutherford took some radium fired some of radium's radiation at a gold leaf very thin
gold leaf and saw something really weird the atoms were behaving like there was
something much smaller inside something compared to the size of the atom like a grain
of sand in the middle of a football field and he had discovered the nucleus the nucleus
of an atom is made out of particles called protons and neutrons orbited by a cloud of
electrons and to explain his structure of the atom scientists had to come up with a new
theory called quantum mechanics and quantum mechanics predicts that if you split the
atom if you split the nucleus some matter will be converted into energy and that's what
was going on with radium but Rutherford himself didn't think that atomic energy would
be of any practical use he famously said that anyone who looks for a soft source of
power inside an atom is talking absolute moonshine so of course there was a very
stubborn Hungarian who decided that it had to be made to work and he was called Leo
Szilard and he was born right here in Budapest as a young man he did a lot of work with
Einstein and they became close friends what did they work on quantum mechanics
thermodynamics theoretical physics and they also invented a new type of fridge old-
fashioned fridges used very poisonous gases and a family in Berlin died of Hume
scumming coming from those gases an Einstein got really upset about it and he was
certain that they had beer had to be a better way to build fridges so he asked sea lard
for help – to invent a better one so they did it was a genius design obviously but too
expensive and too noisy to be actually practical but in the end they made some money
by selling their patents to Electrolux but sea lard kept inventing and his next invention
was something much much bigger in 1933 one morning in London he was crossing the
street at this spot and just the moment when the traffic lightchanged in a flash he had a
really beautiful and a really terrible idea and he called it the chain reaction if you could
split just one atom that would release neutrons that would split more atoms that release
more neutrons that would split more atoms and so on and so on you could make atomic
power work and you could also make a really terrible weapon and that's exactly what
happened in hiroshima and nagasaki 12 years later and szilárd himself was horrified he
spent the rest of his life campaigning against nuclear weapons and he switched fields
from physics to biology and the atomic bomb is a terrible thing it shows that there is a
dark side to our understanding of the big in the small but actually that same
understanding triggered an even bigger explosion that's still going on today and the
trigger for that explosion was this this is the first transistor it's a device about this big it
was built by a team led by William Shockley in Bell Labs in 1947 and what it is is the
simplest building block of a digital computer it can store a 0 or a 1 and like the
atomicbomb it's based on quantum mechanics in fact on equations worked out by
another hand garyun called Eugene Wigner who is one of szilard's friends as well and
we can I showed that there are some materials that can be made to sometimes conduct
electricity and sometimes not so that gives you the 1 and 0 and one of those materials
is silicon and silicon is basically sand so we make transistors out of sand and we are
now very very very very very good at it here's a modern transistor it's about 20
nanometers in size and to give you an idea how small that is all the 2 billion transistors
in an iPhone 6 can be made from just two grains of sand so in 1947 there was just one
transistor today there are 3 times 10 to the power of 21 transistors that's thousand times
all the sand grains in the world and in just in ten years there will be more transistors
than there are stars in the known universe so we really have started another big band
now think about that for a minute that's a number that applies not to atoms but
machines that we have made what does it mean it means we can see things that we
could never see before the Henry at the levites of today don't have to do it all by hand
computers are storing data and analyzing it for us and just like telescope revealed a
much much much bigger universe computers are revealing a world that is much more
complex than we thought and that world is around us and inside us let me give you an
example this is a human skin cell so it looks pretty complicated but thanks to computers
we can now read the code that runs it we can read its DNA for a long time scientists
thought that only about 2% of that DNA did anything useful and the rest was junk but
recently we got much better at reading DNA and now we know that that 98% is actually
the control system for the cell so in just a few years we found out that the cell is actually
at least 50 times more complex than we thought now to give you an idea of what how
big a leaf that is let's think about in terms of computer programs a small iPhone app like
like candy crush is about 50,000 lines of code so what 50 times more code give you it
would give you the control system for CERN's Large Hadron Collider the most
complicated science instrument in the world so basically we thought a cell was like
candy crush but it turns out to be more like the Large Hadron Collider in terms of
complexity so that means it's much harder to fix if something goes wrong so it's no
wonder that we are really far still from curing cancer and maybe that's because we've
been looking at that 2% we thought we understood and to fix that we really need to
tackle the cells full complexity it's not just that we are just using transistors to discover
complexity we're using them to build complexity we're putting them in every single
device we build and connect them all together now look at the Internet in 1977 and then
look at it in 2007 it's like a chain reaction the more complex things we built the more
complex things they allow us to build and now our transport networks our financial
systems our energy systems are much much more complex than ever before and
there's a problem with that because very complex systems can become fragile and
adding a single grain of sand to a sand pile can trigger an avalanche and those
avalanches are happening faster and faster we're all familiar with 2008 financial crisis
but in 2010 competing trading algorithms got locked into a feedback loop that created a
trillion dollar stock market crash in 45 seconds what's called the flash crash of 2:45p.m.
connections also mean that problems spread very very quickly three billion people fly
every year and that means that the next pandemic we're going to have is going to be
truly global in a very complex system you can also get cascading failures one thing
failing off to another this is the electricity grid of India and in 2012 just one power line
being overloaded crash the entire grid left 600 million people without power for three
days and sometimes connections can be very very hard to see imagine a forest fire in
Russia what does that have to do with the Arab Spring well forest fires in Russia led to
the grain export ban which caused massive financial speculation on food prices which
caused feud riots in North Africa and ultimately to people deciding they finally had
enough our most difficult problems like climate change involve both the complexity of
nature and the complexity we regret creating to fix climate change we need to
understand finance we need to understand energy we need to understand soil and
biology and the atmosphere and and the oceans and quantum mechanics carbon and
light all of those things at the same time so we live in a world where most of what we
think we know is wrong small things breaking means that big things break and when
things break they break very quickly everything is connected and we can't see those
connections and to understand anything you have to understand everything so that's a
little bit scary but there's no reason to panic it's actually also quite exciting from for me
looking at all these complexities to like looking at those stars again and that's why I did
what CLR did and switched from physics to biology there are amazing new
opportunities if we can learn to live with complexity and I think we can actually we now
have the means to make a lot of things much simpler a lot of our systems like finance
and energy are fragile because they have central nodes like banks and power plants
that are connected to everything else so what if we took those away think about
technologies like solar power or Tesla's power wall again both powered by transistors
maybe we can have power systems that are much less centralized and much more
resilient we might be able to do the same thing for finance Bitcoin is an example of a
platform that allows to have trusted transactions without a central authority like a bank
that verifies them but what about the complexity of nature now cancer and climate
change are soda problems that they might be too much even for an Einstein but what
about a million Einsteins all working together where could we find those Einsteins well
the chances are that a lot of those Einsteins are now playing computer games and just
all the hours spent on playing Angry Birds actually would translate into twelve
Wikipedia's every year and actually the best way to find a shape of a biological molecule
is already a computer game called Foldit with 15 million players there are other
platforms like that like Zooniverse that mean that anyone can now try to find cancer
mutations or new kinds of galaxies in huge sets of data and we might even be able to
apply that approach to politics iceland recently tried to crowdsource the drafting of the
Constitution by social media and now you might think that was a terrible idea but
actually worked out quite well so there there are ways to make democracy more
transparent and have more brains working on problems that no single politician could
ever understand it may be that we have to give up some ideas about systems that we
have like the fact that we may not need to be able to understand the nature of all
systems withoutunderstanding them that my company healsNano we're trying to build
molecularmachines that make writing genetic codeeasier using machines that we've
evolvedin a test tube and not designed so in away we can tackle complexity
byaccepting it and embracing it and maybeultimately the systems we build willmerge
with the systems of nature untilwe can no longer tell where one ends andone
beginsEinstein said that things should be assimple as possible but no simpler andthat's
a good rule for us to follow bothas a species and in our lives so let'sembrace complexity
where we must butfind simplicity where we can and this isthought I'd like to leave you
withthere's a name for the time in our liveswhere everything we think we know turnsout
to be wrong where everything is toocomplex everything is too overwhelmingand we
don't know what to do and it'scalled growing up and that's when ouradventures really
begin thank you verymuch