Servo Magazine (September 2018)
UFOs, Government Secrets, and the Unknown Laws of Physics
The recent admission by the US government that it spent millions on a program to analyze “anomalous aerospace threats” (i.e., UFOs ) lends at least an air of credibility to the sightings of craft that appear to disobey our current understanding of the laws of physics. Of course, there are many publicly unanswered questions — from the existence of little green men and unknown propulsion systems to time travel and the meaning of crop circles. Those issues are easy to contemplate, visually appealing, and, well, the stuff of movies and countless science fiction novels.
What intrigues me — beyond the big picture issues — is the nature of the underlying electronics and robotics control systems, assuming the craft exist, and regardless of origin.
For example, the theory put forth by the Transformers franchise is that all of the advances in electronics and miniaturization since the invention of the transistor are due to reverse engineering alien hardware. Then, there’s the Star Trek series in which the world’s largest chip producer is based on a chip from the future.
I’m not convinced either scenario is true, but given the thousands of plots in print and TV, it’s likely someone hit upon the truth, even if the truth is simply secret government sponsored R&D.
Let’s assume — at least for the duration of this column — that there is some truth to the sighting and that the technology exists for instant acceleration and even light-speed travel. How are these systems controlled?
What sort of electronics — or perhaps photonics — enable UFOs to accelerate at seemingly impossible speeds, often without a sonic boom, and withstand what would have to be hundreds or thousands of g forces?
Are there undiscovered laws of physics? Or, do we simply have an incomplete knowledge of the laws, as when our understanding graduated from Newtonian to Non-Newtonian physics? Are there nuances in the laws that we haven’t yet considered or hit upon?
Sure, it’s fun to think of what makes little green men tick — maybe multiple hearts and non-hemoglobin-based blood — but what about the communications and data processing? Just imagine the processing speeds required for a craft to compute and execute the incredible turns and banks reported. We’re talking sub-nanosecond computational cycles. It’s akin to how we experience and process time vs. how honey bees and other insects interact with their environment. We’re slow moving sloths compared to many agile flying insects, but we’re based on the same biological building blocks.
Are these super-fast electronics based on crystals or nanotubes or other densely packed structures with short transit distances? Are they based on some sort of quantum entanglement, where the processing occurs at some far-off location and the answers simply appear in a lattice structure the instant they’re needed?
From the perspective of a robotics enthusiast, I think it’s worth pondering the nature of the building blocks of “UFO” technology. Sure, androids are fun to imagine and make for good movie content, but the “right stuff” that such androids might be made of is the real star of the show.
How’s that relevant? Well, one way to discover new components or ways to manipulate matter is to accidently trip over it. Most discoveries are just lab accidents or failures. Take the ubiquitous 3M sticky labels: the failure of an attempt at super glue. The other way to discover or invent something is to look for it — or create it — within specific parameters.
So, what sort of components would be required to support communications, collision avoidance, sensors, and general computation at faster than light travel? Once you have a list of candidate components, start working backwards to what we know today.
Do you see a path from where we are now to your future vision? Does it require new laws of physics (a steep hurdle), the discovery or synthesis of a new element (not impossible), or simply the evolution of existing components and systems (the best answer)? With the path identified, how do we get there from here?
Do you need to spend the next decade of your life pursuing a PhD in material science or can you piece together research that’s currently published on the Internet?
Regardless of whether you believe in UFOs and regardless of whether they exist, I think it’s a useful exercise to envision a future and then work backwards to where we are today. In the admittedly narrow context of electronics and robotics, that means performing a gap analysis on current commercial and academic systems vs. what you can only assume is on board one of those UFOs.
Maybe you’ll surprise yourself and come up with a new electronic component or circuit configuration.
Worst case, the exercise will help you think outside of the box for your next robotics project. You’ll never change the world if you limit yourself to what’s been done or considered safe. SV