Time/Space & Reality
Table of contents
Reality needs a reality check.
I know some robots will read this post but let's assume that you are an Homo sapiens. What do we all have in common? Maybe you’ll answer us the reality we live in, which consists of the three dimension of space and one dimension of time.
However we believe that our perception of Space/Time & Reality is going to evolve tremendously in the coming years / decade.
Several revolutions are happening in fundamental physics with progress made in a variety of theories (such as the Quantum Loop and String ones) that give us a new perspective on the nature of time. For instance some researchers suggest that what we believe is “time passing” is simply the result of how our sensors (brain, nerves…) process data, but there is no “before” or “after”. We’re just interpreting a codebase already fully written.
There isn’t a universal clock ticking at the same time for everything in our universe (think of the famous Twin Paradox, if a twin travels at the speed of light and the other stays on earth...). As with most revolutionary idea (the time paradox idea dates back to the beginning of the 20th century with Einstein’s theory) it takes time (ahah) for humanity to “internalize” it. We haven’t fully grasped the implications of these theories. Maybe the way our perception of Space/Time and Reality is evolving will be similar to what people felt when they understood that earth was not flat (I mean some people still…) or that there were other planets out there. It sounds obvious to us now, but they were probably unbelievable ideas for the majority of people at the time.
Side note: at the risk of repeating ourselves, we are in no way physics experts or pretend that we understand / know a lot about fundamental physics. We are just two naive amateurs who find these ideas fascinating, are reading about them and want to share our enthusiasm.
Research on the nature of space and time are literally mind blowing and we will follow those trends. But the “end of reality" will be more tangible in the coming years through technological progress and some concrete applications already in the wild.
Virtual reality: This is clearly the most obvious one. We can now create from scratch (or from “chips”) realistic virtual worlds in which we immerge our senses. It’s starting with our eyes and ears (VR headsets), but it’ll go further with the other senses (think of haptic suits).
Augmented reality/Mix reality: Imagine you are in a room with two of your friends. You are all looking at the coffee table through your smartphone that has just been updated with ARkit. From the outside, an observer just sees 3 people looking at a coffee table. But each of you can be looking at a something different: one may be looking inside the engine of a car, the other a lion walking on the table and the third the 3d projection of the latest Super Bowl highlights. Now imagine that it’s not through your phone, but through the Magic Leap glasses, or directly through contacts lens on your eyeballs. Who knows who is watching what ? More creepy, imagine that what you see through your lenses / glasses is decided by an algorithm.
Fake reality: Fake news is making the headlines everywhere with countries such as France trying to ban them or Facebook working on ways to control the spreading of fake news. But things are now getting way beyond fake news reports. With the progress of Deep Learning applied to computer vision you can now create fake videos (see the porn example below) or fake voice that impersonate real people. So what you see and what you hear is not necessarily what is happening/has happened. And it’ll be increasingly hard to tell real from fake.
New ways of transportation: ok this is less science fiction but if the time to go from SF to LA or London to NY is divided by 10x or more, our relationship to space will evolve. Autonomous vehicle, Hyperloop, Elon Musk rockets to send people from NYC to Shanghai in less than one hour. All those progress in transportation will also change our relationship to space.
Special drugs designed to make us see the Matrix.
If our reality is indeed made of data/information that our sensors receive and that our brain processes and then projects, there is a lot of space for tech to alter this experience. Thanks to technology we can now “feel and see” much more than we were used to.
Our must-reads this month:
Great interview of Edward Witten : A physicist’s physicist ponders the nature of reality
Magic Leap finally announced the release of its long awaited mix reality glasses.
Progress of Deep learning and computer vision allows everybody to swap actors faces on movies : Fake Porn : how can you create fake porn videos. (SFW) or if you are not into porn get Nicolas Cage instead of Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones.
One of the main issue of virtual reality is that people cannot see there body (mostly hands) : well not anymore.
Meet your digital clone
You’ve probably already seen this video of a fake Barack Obama:
Tremendous progress is also being made on the voice side. It’s becoming almost impossible to tell the difference between an audio recording made by a human from its fake AI generated version:
So you probably see us coming, if you combine both you’ll soon be able to create fake videos of people saying stuff they’ve never said, and it’ll be impossible to tell whether it’s real or not.
And it’s only the beginning. We think that the next step will be to imitate/clone your personality. Feed a deep learning machine with all your emails conversations, your WhatsApp messages, your Facebook and Twitter feeds, the interactions you have with your voice assistant (Alexa, Google Home, Apple Home), the blog posts you wrote and, boom, an AI will be able to imitate some aspects of your personality and reproduce some of your habits.
Such technology could be used, as usual, for good reasons (as your personal assistant who’ll answer some of the messages you receive on Whatsapp or Facebook), for bad reasons (to steal someone’s identity) and for more “awkward” reasons (create the digital clone of someone who died so you can interact with her/him).
Another parallel trend will grow in response to these applications: services that will help you tell real from fake. Factmata is an ‘anti fake news’ media platform which recently raised $1M; We wouldn’t be surprised to see similar services emerge to help people spot AI generated videos, voice recordings or even “fake” online interactions (Is it really you who posted this message on Facebook?).
Our must-reads this month:
- Related to our discussion just above: “Molly wants to use your online presence to create an automated knowledge base” and “We used predictive keyboards trained on all seven books to ghostwrite this spellbinding new Harry Potter chapter”.
- Self-Awareness: the Last Frontier.
Consciousness is the mind virtual reality software*What?
The past 20 years the study of consciousness has progressed tremendously. It went from a field which was tackled mostly by psychologists and philosophers to a “hard science” which is tested in labs. Neuroscientists are now able to detect the signature of consciousness in the brain (the characteristics of a conscious thought) and they keep improving our knowledge of what consciousness really is and how it works. One of the many fascinating aspects is how our brain could actually be an “interpretation machine” and consciousness would be the virtual reality software of our mind.
One of the current theories is that our unconscious continually receives data from our “sensors” (smell, vision, touch…) and constantly computes the probability of how the outside world looks like based on that data. Consciousness is the layer on top which cuts through all these probable scenarios to settle on the most likely one so that we can act. This is why you see the things around you as objects or people and not the atoms that make them. Your perception of the world is an interpretation built on probabilities, with consciousness as a virtual reality software to display it.
Why is it important?
First, making sense of unconscious and consciousness is changing our understanding of how we perceive “reality”. Some people say that we are living in a simulation, but when you think about it it’s already the case. What we think is our reality is actually a “virtual reality” produced by our mind.
Second, the progress made in this field leads to many practical applications. On the health side it enables doctors to interact better with patients suffering from locked-in syndrome or to explore new ways to treat mental disorders such as schizophrenia. But the impacts are felt beyond health with, for example, new software and hardware architectures inspired by the way consciousness and unconscious work together.
* I didn’t come up with this title, it’s taken from the awesome book “Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts” which I highly recommend if you’re interested in the topic.
Our must reads this month:
- [Product] Bose’s AR sunglasses use sound, not a screen to augment reality.
- [Video] A Rap Guide to Consciousness.
- [Article] Beyond AR. “Welcome to the Age of the Spatial Transformation” really great article on how the spatial environment will have its own OS.
- [Article] The AR/VR/Mix Reality stack : what are the tools to create mixed reality experience.
Does time emerge from entropy?
What do most people think characterize “time”? First that time is universal, there’s only one time. We share the same “clock” across our whole universe. Second that time runs only one way: from past to present and future, we don’t go back in time. However in the past 200 years we’ve discovered that what I’ve just described is not true at a fundamental level.
First, the law of physics showed that time is a local variable (and is bound to space hence Space/Time). It doesn’t run evenly everywhere. It depends on where you are and at what speed you travel. We don’t see the difference at our human scale, but time is not running at the same pace for someone climbing the Everest and for someone enjoying a Sex on the Beach on the French Riviera. There is no universal clock shared across the universe, and the notion of “a single present” at that scale doesn’t even make sense. Second, in the fundamental equations of physics the parameter time (“t”), as I’ve described, is different. In these equations nothing forces the parameter “t” to go in only one direction (from past to future). It can go in any direction, it’s not the time as we know it.
At the quantum level the "t" parameter can go both way. But what we perceive at the macro level is a one way direction.
In reality the notion of time that we perceive could be an emerging phenomenon specific to us, created by the brain of living creatures, and not a fundamental phenomenon
But how and from where does time emerge in our brain? A possible explanation, speculative and not proven, is that it emerges from entropy. Entropy is a variable that quantifies complexity/disorder. According to the second law of thermodynamic entropy always increases in a closed system (such as our universe) until it reaches its maximum complexity.
This is my next tattoo. The second law of thermodynamics is one of the few equations in physics where the arrow of time actually matters.
And this process is irreversible. This is why, from our human perspective, the world is only getting more complex, more chaotic, it’s never going backward. The egg which you break to do an omelette will never go back in its eggshell. It’s a one direction process. And it’s where our notion of time could emerge and why we think it goes only one way: because from our human perspective entropy only increases and our brain interprets it as the arrow of time (a succession of ordered events).
Like a “chair” doesn’t exist at a fundamental level, but “emerges” from a particular configuration of atoms, what we think is time doesn’t exist at a fundamental level but could emerge from entropy.
Why is it important?
Because it could the next “Copernican Revolution”. If you go outside and look at the sky, the sun, stars and other planets seem to revolve around us. But it’s only an illusion due to our perspective. And it could be the same with time, it’s only an illusion due to our human perspective.
Our must reads this month:
- [Article] “A Debate Over the Physics of Time”: a great wrap up of the different theories trying to explain what time is.
- [Article] "Entropy explained, with sheep" a great interactive post to better understand entropy.
- [Book] "The Order of Time" the new must read book by Carlo Rovelli that inspired our mini deep dive.