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Photonics Online / October 6, 2016
Russian Scientists Devise Model To Create Anti-Matter With Lasers
В Институте прикладной физики РАН теоретически выяснили, как получить антиматерию с помощью лазера.
Russian researchers have created a model calculation on how to create matter and antimatter via ultrahigh-intensity laser pulses.
Recent developments in laser technology have allowed scientists to experiment with light-matter interactions that make it possible to create new states of matter and anti-matter, as predicted by the theory of quantum electrodynamics (QED).
High-intensity lasers are being used to excite electrons to increasingly higher energy levels to produce brand new particles, such as virtual electron-positron pairs. Some researchers have been combining powerful laser beams with particle accelerators to generate even more new particles and antiparticles. Others have focused on tuning vacuum cavities to create new states of matter.
One of the recent groups to perform QED testing, a research team at the Institute of Applied Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IAP RAS) used a highly intense laser with a foil via numerical simulations to generate an electric field powerful enough to transform these new particles from "a virtual state, in which the particles aren't directly observable, to a real one," said Igor Kostyukov of IAP RAS.
To achieve this, the team needed to trigger a QED cascade, which begins with acceleration of electrons and positrons within the laser field, followed by emission then decay of high-energy photons.
As explained in the study abstract published in AIP Physics of Plasmas: "The laser energy penetrates into the foil due to the effect of the relativistic hole-boring. It is demonstrated that the electron-positron plasma is produced as a result of quantum-electrodynamical cascading in the field of the incident and reflected laser light in front of the foil. The incident and reflected laser light make up the circularly polarized standing wave in the reference frame of the hole-boring front and the pair density peaks near the nodes and anti-nodes of the wave."
"We expected to produce a large number of high-energy photons, and that some portion of them would decay and produce electron-positron pairs," Kostyukov said in a news release. "Our first surprise was that the number of high-energy photons produced by the positrons is much greater than that produced by the electrons of the foil. This led to an exponential - very sharp - growth of the number of positrons, which means that if we detect a larger number of positrons in a corresponding experiment we can conclude that most of them are generated in a QED cascade."
Their experiment using a circularly polarized laser pulse with a foil has yielded new insights to the dynamics of electron-positron pair production. Next, they plan to experiment with lasers at higher intensities within a wider range of parameters.
"By analyzing the positron motion in the electromagnetic fields in front of the foil analytically, we discovered that some characteristics of the motion regulate positron distribution and led to helical-like structures being observed in the simulations," added Kostyukov. "More practical applications may include the development of advanced ideas for the laser-plasma sources of high-energy photons and positrons whose brilliance significantly exceeds that of the modern sources."
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ScienceAlert / 7 Oct 2016
These extremely rare and fluffy wildcats are getting their own sanctuary in Siberia
A palace for a Pallas's.
Занесенный в Красную книгу манул находится на грани исчезновения, при этом трудно установить его точную численность из-за скрытного образа жизни. Поэтому в Сайлюгемском национальном парке (Республика Алтай) была оборудована первая учетная зона для изучения этого представителя кошачьих. На площади 32 квадратных километра установлено 15 фотоловушек. Первые данные о численности и местах распространения манула ученые рассчитывают получить к ноябрю этого года.
Conservationists in Russia have decided to designate a 32-square-kilometre (12-square-mile) piece of land inside the Sailyugemsky Nature Park as a sanctuary for the extremely rare and endangered Pallas's cats (Otocolobus manul).
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There are so few of these adorable and elusive cats left, that scientists haven't had much of a chance to study them. It's hoped the new park will not only help save them from the brink of extinction, but also give researchers a chance to study them up-close for the first time.
"We need to estimate the number of Pallas's cats, and study the habitat area," researcher Alexey Kuzhlekov told Olga Gertcyk at The Siberian Times.
"The latest data on this species is outdated. It hasn't been updated over the last three or four decades. We created a database that is also available online. Information about every encounter with the rare cat is uploaded there."
If you're not up on your Pallas's cat facts, here's a refresher on what researchers know so far.
The Pallas's cat was originally described by German naturalist Peter Pallas back in 1776. He originally called it Felis manul, though they've been reclassified over the years as Otocolobus manul with "Otocolobus" meaning "ugly-eared" in Greek.
This "ugly-eared" name stems from the fact that Pallas's cats typically have small ears that they tuck back into their ultra-fluffy fur when alarmed or on the prowl. And speaking of fluff, Pallas's cats have extremely dense fur, which makes them look a lot bigger than they actually are. That means their adorable fluff is actually a great way to ward of predators.
If you were to give a Pallas cat a trim - which we do not recommend - you would end up with a cat (probably a very angry one) measuring roughly 66 centimetres (26 inches) long, minus the tail, and weighing about 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds). For reference, that's about the same size as a large housecat.
Pallas's cats live solitary lives in remote areas of southern Russia, northern Mongolia, and some parts of central China, where they prefer rocky landscapes. They have a very short mating season - which normally happens in February and March - with a female's sexual cycle lasting only 26 hours.
Given those facts, it's easy to see how researchers have had a tough time studying Pallas's cats. And sadly, thanks to poachers hunting them for their fur, mainly in Mongolia, and habitat loss, thee awesome kitties are now on the verge of extinction.
That's what prompted an international team of researchers to campaign the Russian government to set aside a piece of land in the Sailyugemsky Nature Park, in the southern part of the country between the borders of Kazakhstan and Mongolia in the Altai Mountains, to give them refuge.
"The Pallas's cat is unfairly forgotten in the world although the animal is on the edge of extinction. There are only a handful of researchers studying it in Russia," Sailyugemsky Park director Denis Malikov told The Siberian Times.
Right now, the team is monitoring the park's Pallas's cat population using video traps, which they hope will give them accurate population numbers by November.
"Our peers from Russia are doing a great job monitoring felines," researcher Jim Sanderson, from the Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation, told The Siberian Times.
"All the world knows that this is where the snow leopard lives and that the park is responsible for its protection. The Pallas's cat also needs protection." Only time will tell if the fluffy Pallas's cat will rebound.
Sciences et Avenir / Le 11.10.2016
Nucléaire : la Russie suspend sa coopération scientifique avec les Etats-Unis
Россия в одностороннем порядке остановила научное сотрудничество с США по исследованиям в области ядерной энергетики и нераспространения ядерного оружия.
Alors que les relations entre les deux pays ne cessent de s'envenimer, les accords russo-américains concernant les recherches dans le domaine de l'énergie nucléaire et la non-prolifération ont été gelés. Vladimir Poutine vient d'annoncer qu'il reportait sa venue à Paris prévue le 19 octobre.
La coopération scientifique entre la Russie et les Etats-Unis dans le domaine de l'énergie nucléaire a connu ces jours-ci un sérieux coup de froid. Le 5 octobre, le Kremlin a annoncé qu'il interrompait, de façon unilatérale, toutes les collaborations engagées entre l'entreprise d'Etat Rosatom et le département américain de l'Energie. Signé en 2013, l'accord prévoyait une coopération scientifique sur de nombreux sujets : réacteurs de nouvelle génération, matériaux fissiles, sureté et non-prolifération nucléaires, recherches sur la fusion thermonucléaire, traitement de sites pollués par des substances radioactives, etc. C'était la première fois, depuis la fin de la Guerre froide, que les deux parties échangeaient sur un pied d'égalité dans le domaine la recherche nucléaire.
De quoi fabriquer 17.000 bombes nucléaires
Le 3 octobre, Vladimir Poutine avait déjà suspendu l'accord russo-américain sur le recyclage des excédents de plutonium militaire. Les deux nations s'étaient engagées à transformer 34 tonnes de ces surplus en combustible Mox, mélange contenant du dioxyde de plutonium et du dioxyde d'uranium appauvri. De telles quantités permettent en théorie de fabriquer 17 000 bombes nucléaires.
Pour les autorités russes, il s'agit de « contre-mesures » aux sanctions imposées par les Américains depuis l'annexion de la Crimée et le soutien qu'apporte Vladimir Poutine aux séparatistes ukrainiens. Mais l'échec des pourparlers sur un cessez-le-feu en Syrie et les critiques adressées par Washington suite aux bombardements russes sur la ville Alep, qui évoque des « crimes de guerre » et réclame l'ouverture d'une enquête ont, semble-t-il, précipité les choses. D'où ces mesures de rétorsion.
Moscou utilise la coopération scientifique dans le nucléaire comme une arme politique pour faire pression sur les Etats-Unis : « Nous voulons que les Américains comprennent qu'ils ne peuvent pas, d'un côté, introduire des sanctions contre nous là où cela ne leur porte pas trop préjudice, tout en poursuivant, de l'autre, une coopération sélective dans les domaines où ils en retirent des avantages », a déclaré le ministre russe des Affaires étrangères Sergueï Lavrov. Samedi, la Russie a par ailleurs installé des missiles Iskander-M (qui peuvent transporter des têtes nucléaires sur une portée de 700 kilomètres) dans son enclave de Kaliningrad, aux portes de l'Otan.
© Sciences et Avenir.
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Le Courrier de Russie / Mercredi 12 octobre 2016
Trois scientifiques français au service de la recherche en Russie
Les Russes devraient revenir au premier plan de la recherche mondiale dans le domaine de la physique d'ici une dizaine d'années.
Трое французских ученых - астроном, физик и океанограф - получили мегагранты от правительства России. Основная задача программы мегагрантов - привлечь в российские вузы и научные центры ученых с мировым именем, что должно способствовать выходу российской науки на мировой уровень.
Le 20 septembre dernier, trois éminents chercheurs français ont décroché une bourse du gouvernement russe, avec pour mission de développer la recherche académique dans plusieurs universités du pays. Sélectionnés dans le cadre de la cinquième édition du concours Megagrant, les scientifiques français disposent désormais de 90 millions de roubles (1,3 million d'euros) chacun, répartis sur une période de trois ans, afin de faire avancer la science en Russie.
Ils étaient au départ 542 chercheurs, originaires de 45 pays, dont 18 Français, à avoir répondu à l'appel d'offres du gouvernement russe. Seuls 40 d'entre eux ont finalement été retenus par le ministère russe de l'éducation, dont trois scientifiques français - un astronome, un physicien et un océanographe. Le point commun de ces trois hommes, outre la nationalité ? Une brillante carrière - ils sont tous directeurs de recherche au Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) - et des liens forts avec la Russie.
Impliquer davantage la Russie
Le premier des lauréats français, l'astronome Jean-Loup Bertaux, 74 ans, ne compte plus ses voyages en Russie. Nostalgique de l'intense coopération franco-soviétique, il souhaite inciter les Russes à s'impliquer davantage dans les actuels projets internationaux.
« J'entretiens encore des relations privilégiées avec l'Institut de recherche spatiale de l'Académie des sciences de Russie depuis de nombreuses années », indique l'astronome. En 1985, il a notamment coopéré avec des scientifiques russes sur une mission vers la planète Vénus, lancée à l'occasion du passage de la comète de Halley. La Russie a ensuite réalisé pour la France des éléments de satellites, dont certains volent encore autour de la planète Mars.
Le chercheur déplore toutefois l'affaiblissement de la coopération franco-russe dans le domaine spatial. « Il n'y a plus, à l'heure actuelle, aucun programme franco-russe proprement dit dans ce domaine, et nous n'organisons plus de réunions annuelles, comme autrefois, entre scientifiques russes et français », précise-t-il.
Le Centre national d'études spatiales français collabore aujourd'hui davantage avec la Chine, l'Inde et la Nasa qu'avec la Russie. Mais Jean-Loup Bertaux ne perd pas courage et espère notamment voir se développer un projet international de construction d'un immense télescope dans l'espace. « Un projet qui ne peut se faire qu'avec la participation de toutes les grandes puissances spatiales - Russie y compris », insiste le chercheur.
Jean-Loup Bertaux souhaiterait voir les Russes coopérer non seulement avec les Français, mais également avec le reste du monde sur ses deux thématiques de prédilection : les exoplanètes (situées hors du système solaire) et l'observation sur Terre des gaz à effet de serre (dioxyde de carbone et méthane) impliqués dans le réchauffement climatique. « Des sujets qui explosent actuellement, mais sur lesquels la Russie est encore en retrait », explique-t-il.
Et c'est précisément pour développer ces problématiques que Jean-Loup Bertaux sera désormais amené à se rendre régulièrement en Russie : sa bourse de 90 millions de roubles servira à lancer de nouvelles études et participer aux efforts internationaux.
À terme, ces recherches exigeront en effet la construction de grosses infrastructures dans l'espace : « un domaine dans lequel la Russie possède une réelle expertise et pourrait être utile », souligne le directeur de recherche émérite au CNRS.
Dynamiser la recherche
Le deuxième lauréat français, le physicien Bernard Gil, 59 ans, a participé au concours via l'Institut physique et technique Ioffe, de Saint-Pétersbourg, avec lequel il collabore depuis des années. « Dès les années 1980, au début de ma carrière, j'ai été amené à lire des contributions de scientifiques russes, à travailler sur des sujets communs… et j'ai fini par développer des collaborations étroites avec la Russie », explique-t-il. À point tel que ce directeur de recherche au CNRS a été décoré, en 2012, du titre de docteur honoris causa de la faculté de physique de l'Université de Saint-Pétersbourg.
La bourse publique russe servira à Bernard Gil à créer, au sein de l'Institut Ioffe, un laboratoire de recherche sur les propriétés optiques des semi-conducteurs bidimensionnels. Un projet innovant qui devrait permettre de créer des composants performants à bas coûts, susceptibles de remplacer ceux existant. « L'objectif est d'élargir la boîte à outils de l'Institut Ioffe et de doter l'ensemble du système de recherche russe d'un instrument nouveau », précise le lauréat.
Autre objectif du chercheur : approfondir sa connaissance du russe. « C'est la moindre des choses, dans le cadre d'un tel partenariat, que d'apprendre à être plus habile dans la langue des partenaires », estime Bernard Gil, qui y voit également une marque de reconnaissance à l'égard des Russes.
Le physicien estime que cette bourse gouvernementale illustre la volonté des autorités russes de dynamiser la recherche académique nationale. « L'équipe actuelle au pouvoir met en place de réels moyens en faveur de la recherche scientifique : elle attribue des bourses, construit des laboratoires et organise des rassemblements de scientifiques de grande qualité », souligne-t-il, citant en exemple la dernière conférence à laquelle il a participé à Kazan, en septembre dernier, intitulée Science pour le futur.
La Russie, historiquement concentrée sur la recherche fondamentale, tend ainsi progressivement à développer le caractère applicatif de ses découvertes : « Une approche qui devrait permettre au pays de revenir au premier plan de la recherche mondiale dans le domaine de la physique d'ici une dizaine d'années », est convaincu le chercheur.
Faire coopérer des équipes complémentaires
Bernard Barnier, 62 ans, l'océanographe du trio de lauréats français, coopère depuis plus de vingt ans avec l'Institut océanographique Shirshov, de Moscou, qui dépend de l'Académie russe des sciences. « J'ai répondu à cet appel d'offres dans la continuité de nos interactions avec les collègues russes, indique-t-il, soulignant qu'il s'agit d'une première pour la France : Nous ne sommes pas tellement habitués à sortir du cadre européen, voire national, pour trouver des financements. »
Grâce à sa bourse, ce directeur de recherche au CNRS souhaite avancer dans la compréhension du rôle des océans dans le changement climatique.
Les recherches seront concentrées sur les mers de l'hémisphère nord et des hautes latitudes - océans Atlantique nord et Arctique -, où l'on enregistre la plus forte amplitude de changement climatique : « Des zones que les scientifiques russes connaissent bien, et pour lesquelles ils ont développé leur propres modèles d'observation », souligne Bernard Barnier.
En France, l'équipe de Bernard Barnier ne réalise pas d'observations mais possède, en revanche, une réelle expertise sur les modèles des océans. L'objectif du chercheur français, amené désormais à passer plusieurs mois par an en Russie, sera donc de « faire coopérer les équipes françaises et russes, particulièrement complémentaires », précise-t-il.
Une tâche qui ne devrait pas être trop complexe, les équipes étant déjà habituées à partager leurs recherches : « Notre secteur n'est pas sensible, et les résultats sont mis en commun assez rapidement, parfois immédiatement, parfois un ou deux ans seulement après l'établissement de conclusions », explique Bernard Barnier.
De fait, le chercheur aborde sereinement ce nouveau projet franco-russe, qui « reflète avant tout le bon état général de la coopération scientifique internationale, dans laquelle il n'y a pas d'exclus », conclut-il.
© Le Courrier de Russie 2003-2016.
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Engadget / 12.10.16
Terahertz radiation could speed up computer memory by 1000 times
"T-rays" can reset computer cells far faster than a magnetic field.
Немецкие и российские физики предложили новый способ переключения ячеек компьютерной памяти с помощью терагерцевого излучения. В перспективе это может ускорить работу памяти в 1000 раз.
One area limiting speed in personal computing speed is memory - specifically, how quickly individual memory cells can be switched, which is currently done using an external magnetic field. European and Russian scientists have proposed a new method using much more rapid terahertz radiation, aka "T-rays," the same things used in airport body scanners. According to their research, published in the journal Nature, swapping out magnetic fields for T-rays could crank up the rate of the cell-resetting process by a factor of 1000, which could be used to create ultrafast memory.
The radiation is actually a series of short electromagnetic pulses pinging the cells at terahertz frequencies (which have wavelengths of about 0.1 millimeter, lying between microwaves and infrared light, according to the scientists' press release). Most of the recent T-ray experiments have dealt with quick, precise inspections of organic and mechanical material. Aside from quickly scanning you for contraband and awkward bulges at airports, other proposals have involved using terahertz radiation to look into broken microchip innards, peer into fragile texts and even comb airport luggage for bombs.
But similar to those hypothetical applications, you won't see T-rays in your PCs any time soon. The scientists have successfully demonstrated the concept on a weak ferromagnet, thulium orthoferrite (TmFeO3), and even found that the terahertz radiation's effect was ten times greater than a traditional external magnetic field, meaning the new method is both far faster and more efficient. But the scientists have yet to publish tests on actual computer memory cells, so it's unknown when, or if, T-rays will buzz around inside your machine.
© 2016 AOL Inc. All rights reserved.
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Aeon Magazine / 17 October, 2016
The Soviet InterNyet
Soviet scientists tried for decades to network their nation. What stalemated them is now fracturing the global internet.
C 1959 по 1989 гг. ведущие советские ученые и государственные деятели неоднократно пытались создать общенациональную компьютерную сеть. Что мешало всем этим попыткам?
В издательстве MIT Press вышла книга Бенджамина Питерса (Университет Талсы, США) "How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet", посвященная непростой судьбе сетей ЭВМ в Советском Союзе.
On the morning of 1 October 1970, the computer scientist Viktor Glushkov walked into the Kremlin to meet with the Politburo. He was an alert man with piercing eyes rimmed in black glasses, with the kind of mind that, given one problem, would derive a method for solving all similar problems. And at that moment the Soviet Union had a serious problem. A year earlier, the United States launched ARPANET, the first packet-switching distributed computer network that would in time seed the internet as we know it. The distributed network was originally designed to nudge the US ahead of the Soviets, allowing scientists' and government leaders' computers to communicate even in the event of a nuclear attack. It was the height of the tech race, and the Soviets needed to respond.
Glushkov's idea was to inaugurate an era of electronic socialism. He named the colossally ambitious project the All-State Automated System. It sought to streamline and technologically upgrade the entire planned economy. This system would still make economic decisions by state plans, not market prices, but sped up by computer modelling to predict equilibria before they happen. Glushkov wanted smarter and faster decision-making, and maybe even electronic currency. All he needed was the Politburo's purse.
But when Glushkov entered the cavernous room that morning, he noticed two empty chairs at the long table: his two strongest allies were missing. Instead, he faced down a table of ambitious, steely-eyed ministers - many of whom wanted the Politburo's purse and support for themselves.
Between 1959 and 1989, leading Soviet men of science and state repeatedly ventured to construct a national computer network for broadly prosocial purposes. With the deep wounds of the Second World War far from healed (80 per cent of Russian men born in 1923 died in the war), the Soviet Union continued to specialise in massive modernisation projects that had transformed a dispersed tsarist nation of illiterate peasants into a global nuclear power in the course of a couple of generations.
After the Soviet Union's leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin's personality cult in 1956, a sense of possibility swept the country. Onto this scene entered a host of socialist projects to wire the national economy with networks, among them the first proposal anywhere in the world to create a national computer network for civilians. The idea was the brainchild of the military researcher Anatoly Ivanovich Kitov.
A young man with a small build and a keen mind for mathematics, Kitov had risen through the ranks of the Red Army in the Second World War. Then, in 1952, he encountered Norbert Wiener's masterwork Cybernetics (1948) in a secret military library, the book's title a neologism coined from the Greek for steersman and a postwar science of self-governing information systems. With the support of two senior scientists, Kitov translated cybernetics into a robust Russian-language approach to developing self-governing control and communication systems with computers. The supple systems vocabulary of cybernetics was intended to equip the Soviet state with a hi-tech toolkit for rational Marxist governance, an antidote to the violence and cult of personality characterising Stalin's strongman state. Indeed, perhaps cybernetics could even help ensure that there would never again be another strongman dictator, or so went the technocratic dream.
In 1959, as the director of a secret military computer research centre, Kitov turned his attention to devoting "unlimited quantities of reliable calculating processing power" to better planning the national economy, which was the most persistent information-coordination problem besetting the Soviet socialist project. (It was discovered in 1962, for example, that a handmade calculation error in the 1959 census goofed the population prediction by 4 million people.) Kitov wrote his thoughts down in the "Red Book letter", which he sent to Khrushchev. He proposed allowing "civilian organisations" to use functioning military computer "complexes" for economic planning in the nighttime hours, when most military men were sleeping. Here, he thought, economic planners could harness the military's computational surplus to adjust for census problems in real-time, tweaking the economic plan nightly if needed. He named his military-civilian national computer network the Economic Automated Management System.
As it happened, Kitov's military supervisors intercepted the Red Book letter before it reached Khrushchev. They were incensed by his proposal that the Red Army share resources with civilian economic planners - resources that Kitov also dared to describe as falling behind the times. A secret military tribunal was arranged to review his transgressions, for which Kitov was promptly stripped of his Communist Party membership for a year and dismissed from the military permanently. So ended the first national public computer network ever proposed.
The idea, however, survived. In the early 1960s, another scientist took up Kitov's proposal, a man whom Kitov would grow close enough to that, decades later, their children would marry: Viktor Mikhailovich Glushkov.
The full title of Glushkov's plan - The All-State Automated System for the Gathering and Processing of Information for the Accounting, Planning and Governance of the National Economy, USSR - speaks for itself and its epic ambitions. First proposed in 1962, the All-State Automated System, or OGAS, was intended to become a real-time, remote-access national computer network built on preexisting and new telephony wires. In its most ambitious version, it would span most of the Eurasian continent, mapping itself like a nervous system onto every factory and enterprise in the planned economy. Its network was modelled hierarchically after the three-level pyramid structure of the state and economy: one central computer centre in Moscow would connect to as many as 200 mid-level computer centres in prominent cities, which would in turn link to as many as 20,000 computer terminals distributed across key production sites in the national economy.
Consonant with Glushkov's greater life-work commitments, the network plans reflected a deliberately decentralised design. This meant that, while Moscow could specify who received which authorisations, any authorised user could contact any other user across the pyramid network - without direct permission from the mother node. Glushkov intimately understood the advantages of leveraging local knowledge in network designs, having spent so much of his career working on related mathematical problems while ferrying between his home and the central capital (he jokingly called the Kiev-Moscow train his "second home").
The OGAS project appeared to many state officials and economic planners, especially in the late 1960s, to be the next best response to an old conundrum: the Soviets were agreed that communism was the way of the future, but no one since Marx and Engels knew how best to get there. For Glushkov, networked computing might just inch the country toward an age of what the author Francis Spufford later called "red plenty". It was the means by which the sluggish pulp-based lifeblood of the command economy - quotas, plans and wrist-bending compendiums of industry standards - would transform into the nation's neural firings, moving at the sublime speed of electricity. The project signified no less than the ushering in of "electronic socialism".
Such ambitions require brilliant, committed people willing to throw off the old ways of thinking. In the 1960s, those people could be found in Kiev - a couple of blocks from where the Strugatsky brothers wrote their science fiction by night and worked as physicists by day. There, on the outskirts of Kiev, Glushkov ran the Institute of Cybernetics for 20 years, beginning in 1962. He filled his institute with ambitious young men and women; the average age of researchers was about 25. Glushkov and his youthful staff dedicated themselves to developing the OGAS and other cybernetic projects in the service of the Soviet state, such as a system of electronic receipts for virtualising hard currency into an online ledger of accounts - this in the early 1960s. Glushkov, who was known to talk down Communist Party ideologues by quoting paragraphs of Marx from memory, described his innovation as a faithful fulfilment of Marxist prophecy of a moneyless socialist future. Unfortunately for Glushkov, the idea of Soviet e-currency stirred up unhelpful anxieties and did not receive committee approval in 1962. Fortunately, his grand economic network project did live to see another day.
These cyberneticists imagined a kind of smart neural network, a nervous system for the Soviet economy. This choice cybernetic analogy between computer network and brain bore its imprint on other computing theory innovations in Kiev. For example, instead of the so-called von Neumann bottleneck (which limits the amount of transferable data in a computer), Glushkov's teams proposed "macro-piping processing" modelled after the simultaneous firings of many synapses in the human brain. In addition to countless mainframe computer projects, other theoretical schemes included automata theory, the paperless office, and natural language programming that would let humans communicate with computers semantically, not just syntactically as programmers do today. Most ambitiously, Glushkov and his students theorised "information immortality", a concept we might call "mind uploading" with Isaac Asimov or Arthur C Clarke in hand. On his deathbed decades later, Glushkov comforted his grieving wife with a resonant reflection: "Be at ease," he soothed her. "One day the light from our Earth will pass by constellations, and on each constellation we will appear young again. Thus we will be together forever in the eternities!"
After their workday, the cyberneticists indulged in a comedy club full of frivolity and merry pranksterism that bordered on the outright defiant. No more than a place to vent off steam, their after-hours work club also saw itself as a virtual country independent of Moscow's rule. They christened their group "Cybertonia" at a New Year's party in 1960, and organised regular social events such as holiday dances, symposia and conferences in Kiev and Lviv, even publishing tongue-in-cheek papers such as "On Wanting to Remain Invisible - At Least to the Authorities". Instead of event invitations, the group issued pun-filled faux passports, wedding certificates, newsletters, punchcard currency and even a Cybertonia constitution. In a parody of Soviet (council) governance structure, Cybertonia was governed by a council of robots, and at the head of that council sat their mascot and supreme leader, a saxophone-playing robot - a nod to the US cultural import of jazz.
Glushkov got in on the fun, too: he called his memoirs Despite the Authorities, even though his official title was vice president of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. Counterculture, understood in the scholarship of Fred Turner as the power to count and counter other powers, has long been kin of cyberculture.
All of this, though, required money - lots of money, especially for Glushkov's OGAS project. That meant convincing the Politburo to give it to them. And so it was that Glushkov found himself in the Kremlin on 1 October 1970, hoping to continue the work of Cybertonia and bring the internet to the bedraggled Soviet state.
One man stood in Glushkov's way: the minister of finance, Vasily Garbuzov. Garbuzov did not want any shiny, real-time optimised computer networks governing or informing the state economy. He called instead for simple computers that would flash lights and play music in hen houses to stimulate egg production, as he had seen during a recent visit to Minsk. His motivations were not born out of common-sense pragmatism, of course. He wanted the funding for his own ministry. In fact, rumour holds that he had approached the economic-reform-minded prime minister Alexei Kosygin in private before the 1 October gathering, threatening that if his competitor ministry, the Central Statistical Administration, retained control over the OGAS project, then Garbuzov and his Ministry of Finance would internally submarine any reform efforts it might bring about, just as he had done to Kosygin's piecemeal liberalisation reforms five years earlier.
Glushkov needed allies to face down Garbuzov and keep the Soviet internet alive. But there were none at the meeting. The two seats left empty that day were the prime minister's and the technocratic general secretary Leonid Brezhnev's. These were the two most powerful men in the Soviet state - and likely supporters of OGAS. But, apparently, they chose to be absent rather than face down a ministry mutiny.
Garbuzov successfully convinced the Politburo that the OGAS project, with its ambitious plans to optimally model and manage information flows in the planned economy, was too much too soon. The committee, after nearly going the other way, felt it was safer to support Garbuzov - and the still top-secret OGAS project was left to languish in review limbo for another decade.
The forces that brought down OGAS resemble those that eventually undid the Soviet Union: the surprisingly informal forms of institutional misbehaviour. Subversive ministers, status quo-inclined bureaucrats, nervous factory managers, confused workers and even other economic reformers opposed the OGAS project because it was in their institutional self-interest to do so. Without state funding and oversight, the national network project for ushering in electronic socialism splintered in the 1970s and '80s into a patchwork of dozens and then hundreds of isolated, non-interoperable factory local-area control systems. The Soviet state failed to network their nation not because it was too rigid or top-down in design but because it was too fickle and pernicious in practice.
There is an irony to this. The first global computer networks took root in the US thanks to well-regulated state funding and collaborative research environments, while the contemporary (and notably independent) national network efforts in the USSR floundered due to unregulated competition and institutional infighting among Soviet administrators. The first global computer network emerged thanks to capitalists behaving like cooperative socialists, not socialists behaving like competitive capitalists.
In the fate of the Soviet internet we can glimpse a clear and present warning to the future of the internet. Today the "internet" - understood as a single global network of networks for advancing informational liberty, democracy and commerce - is in serious decline. If Prince and the AP Style Board don't convince, consider how often companies and states are seeking to silo their online experiences: the ubiquitous app is more of a walled garden for rent-seekers than a public commons for browsers. Inward-looking gravity wells (such as Facebook and the Chinese firewall) increasingly gobble up sites that link outwards (such as Aeon). So too are the heads of France, India, Russia and other nations eager to internationalise the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and enforce local regulations for their citizens. In fact, hundreds of non-internet networks have been functioning across corporations and countries for decades. The future of computing networks undoubtedly holds not one internet but many distinct online ecosystems.
In other words, the future undoubtedly resembles the past. The 20th-century features multiple national computer networks clamouring for global status. The Cold War drama of what we might dub, with a wink, the "Soviet nyetworking" or even, in the delightful title of historian Slava Gerovitch, the "Soviet InterNyet" helps to fill out the comparative study of computer networks with a sort of internet -1.0 case study. Weighed in the balance of many past and likely future networks, the perception that there is only a single global network of networks is the exception to the rule. Given that the Cold War irony at the heart of this story - that cooperative capitalists outmaneuvered competitive socialists - did not play out well for the Soviets of yesteryear, perhaps we should not be too sure the internet of tomorrow will fare much better.
The anthropologist and philosopher Bruno Latour once quipped that technology is society made durable, by which he meant that social values are embedded in technologies: for example, Google's PageRank algorithm is deemed "democratic" because, among many other factors, it counts links (and links to sites making links) as votes. Like politicians with votes, the pages with the most links rank the highest. The internet appears a vehicle of liberty, democracy and commerce today in part because it cemented itself in our popular imagination just as Western values appeared to triumph in the wake of the Cold War. The Soviet internet story also reverses Latour's aphorism: so too is society technology made temporary.
In other words, as our social values shift, so will what appears obvious about technology. The Soviets once embedded values into networks - cybernetic collectivism, statist hierarchy and planned economies - that seem foreign to us; so too will the values modern readers attach to the internet strike future observers as strange. Network technologies will endure and evolve, even as our fondest social assumptions about them pass into the dustbin of history.
Glushkov's story is also a stirring reminder to the investor classes and other agents of technological change that astonishing genius, far-seeing foresight and political acumen are not enough to change the world. Supporting institutions often make all the difference. This is an express lesson of the Soviet experience and a media environment continuously mined for digital data and other forms of privacy exploitation: the institutional networks that undergird the making of computer networks and their cultures are both vital and far from singular.
While computer-networked projects and their promoters will continue to pedestal brighter network futures publicly, private institutional forces will, unless checked, continue to capitalise on surveillance networks committed to making themselves privy to our lives. (Perhaps that is what privacy is really about: the sweeping power of information-omnivorous institutions to pry into our lives, not just individual rights to protect against that privation.) The Soviet case study reminds us that the US National Security Agency's domestic spying program and Microsoft's Cloud partake in a longer 20th-century tradition of general secretariats committed to privatising personal and public information for their institutional gain.
In other words, we should not take too much comfort from the fact that the global internet first evolved thanks to cooperative capitalists, not competitive socialists: the story of the Soviet internet is a reminder that we internet users enjoy no guarantees that the private interests propping up the internet will behave any better than those greater forces whose unwillingness to cooperate not only spelled the end of Soviet electronic socialism but threatens to end the current chapter in our network age.
© Aeon Media Group Ltd. 2016.
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BBC News / 26 October 2016
Parrot fossil unearthed in Siberia
Российские палеонтологи обнаружили в районе озера Байкал останки попугая, жившего 16-18 млн лет назад, в эпоху раннего миоцена. Климат в то время был близок к субтропическому. Это первый случай обнаружения ископаемого попугая в Азии.
A parrot fossil has been unearthed in Siberia - the furthest north one of these birds has ever been found, a study reports.
A single parrot bone was discovered in the Baikal region and dates to between 16 and 18 million years ago. It suggests that the birds, which today mainly inhabit tropical and sub-tropical regions, may once have been widespread in Eurasia. It is also the first time a fossil parrot has been found in Asia. The research is published in the journal Biology Letters.
The study's author Dr Nikita Zelenkov, from the Borissiak Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, said he was surprised by the discovery.
"No-one before has ever found evidence of their presence in Siberia," he said. The researchers discovered the ancient parrot's remains at Tagay Bay in the east of Siberia.
"We were excavating all kinds of animals there, and mostly they were rodents, rhinos, cats, hippos and others," said Dr Zelenkov. "But this locality is also interesting because it preserves a rich community of fossil birds. But no exotic birds have been found there before."
Dr Zelenkov discovered part of a bone called a tarsometatarsus, which is found in the lower leg of birds. After comparing it with other species, he discovered that it belonged to a small parrot. "Unfortunately, this find is not good enough to reconstruct the appearance or lifestyle of this parrot, but we can see that it was rather similar to modern ones. So it was likely a very modern-looking small bird, around the size of a budgerigar."
It shares features with another earlier fossil parrot bone in Germany, reported in a study published in 2010, belonging to a species called Mogontiacopsitta miocaena.
Commenting on the research, Dr David Waterhouse, senior curator of natural history at Norfolk Museums Service, said: "What's interesting about this is how far north the bird is and how far east it is." However, he said it was not completely unexpected to find a parrot in Siberia. "Even though today we associate parrots with tropical and sub-tropical environments, you can get parrots in the Himalayas," he said. "So they can deal with those climates - and during the Miocene period it was even warmer than it is now. So when you put it together it is not surprising."
He added that the discovery could change our understanding of how early parrots spread around the world and moved into the Americas. Previous theories suggested they may have flown from Africa into the Americas, but this find suggests another route. "This paper suggests - and it is only a suggestion but it is an interesting one - that we have parrots in Asia and the easiest possible route from Asia to North America is across what's now the Bering Strait, across from Russia into Canada and Alaska," said Dr Waterhouse. He added: "They've found something that even if it doesn't give us all the answers, it does raise more questions and starts us thinking about new hypotheses - and that's the kind of science that I like."
Copyright © 2016 BBC.
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Nature / 28 October 2016
World's largest marine reserve hailed as diplomatic breakthrough
Antarctic agreement follows years of failed discussions and represents the first major conservation effort in the high seas.
17-28 октября в Хобарте (Тасмания, Австралия) прошел ежегодный саммит Комиссии по сохранению морских живых ресурсов Антарктики (АНТКОМ), включающей 24 страны и Евросоюз. В течение нескольких лет Комиссия выступала за создание международных заповедников в водах Южного океана, в частности, в море Росса, однако Россия постоянно блокировала соглашение. Наконец, компромисс был найден - международное соглашение о формировании крупнейшей в мире морской природоохранной зоны в море Росса вступает в силу в декабре 2017 года. Зона площадью 1,55 млн кв. км будет свободна от коммерческого рыболовства и разработки полезных ископаемых на 35 лет.
It is a milestone for ocean conservation and Russia's relationship with the rest of the world. After years of unsuccessful talks, 24 nations and the European Union agreed on 28 October to create the largest marine reserve in the world, around twice the size of Texas, in the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica.
The international deal takes effect in December 2017 and will set aside 1.55 million square kilometres of the Ross Sea, a deep Antarctic bay 3,500 kilometres south of New Zealand, from commercial fishing and mineral exploitation. It is the first time that countries have joined together to protect a major chunk of the high seas - the areas of ocean that are largely unregulated because they do not fall under the jurisdiction of any one nation.
Signed by members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) amid cheering and applause at a meeting in Hobart, Australia, the deal became possible because of assent from Russia, which had long blocked the agreement. "Russian support of any agreement is a very positive signal in the current political situation," says Peter Jones, a specialist on marine environmental governance at University College London.
Scientists hope now to see an acceleration of international marine-protection efforts around the globe, in particular, other ecologically precious regions around Antarctica. The designated reserve is a "first dent into the notion that we can't do anything to protect the high seas", says Daniel Pauly, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, who has long sounded the alarm over the state of the world's oceans and declining fish harvests.
Members of the CCAMLR had discussed the Ross Sea proposal since it was made by the United States and New Zealand in 2012. Observers think that Russia's change of heart might have been the result of intense, behind-the-scene discussions on the issue in recent months between US secretary of state, John Kerry, and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.
In politically turbulent times, Russia is "pleased to be part of this collaborative international effort", Sergei Ivanov, special representative on ecology to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, told the BBC.
Although still relatively healthy, the Ross Sea has experienced a growth in fishing, which has begun to decimate stocks of the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni), a predator. Also in decline is the Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), a shrimp-like crustacean that is one of the largest protein sources on Earth and a key creature in the marine food web off Antarctica.
The deal includes some compromises. These might have been necessary to winning the support of Russia, which operates a large fishing fleet in the region, says Jones. Most of the reserve - 1,117,000 km2 - will be closed to all commercial marine activities. But a further 322,000 km2 "krill research zone" will allow controlled fishing, known as "research fishing" and another 110,000 km2will be a "special research zone" open for limited fishing of both krill and toothfish. This means that although the total area of the marine reserve is bigger than the next largest - Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument near Hawaii - the area that is completely restricted is slightly smaller.
And for now, a "sunset clause" specifies that the designated zone expires in 35 years, meaning it would not fully qualify as a marine protected area (MPA) under the strict rules set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. "We do regret this," says Mike Walker, project director of the Antarctic Ocean Alliance, a campaign group, in Washington DC. "But we are confident that decision-makers will come to realize that the best way to conserve the ocean is to protect it forever."
On the whole, scientists reacted enthusiastically to the decision. "This is unprecedented protection for the Southern Ocean," says Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, a marine biologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis.
The Ross Sea contains one of the least-altered ecosystems on Earth, she says. But that ecosystem is vulnerable to human disturbance and the effects of climate change. "Setting aside an area free from fishing stresses in this marine reserve provides a reference point and a place for research to evaluate how systems respond to climate change and to learn how to foster resilience," she says.
"It means we will protect one of the last parts of the world with a functioning natural ecosystem, with a complete array of marine mammals, seabirds and other marine life," adds Pauly.
But others caution that ocean protection zones alone will not stop the decline in marine biodiversity, and do not provide a solution to overfishing because they may just move fishing to another spot.
"If fishing is the problem then they should reduce fishing pressure, not move it around," says Ray Hilborn, a fisheries specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle. "Indeed, MPA might also stand for "Move Problems Elsewhere".
The CCAMLR will discuss further proposals next year to create protected zones of roughly similar size off the coast of East Antarctica and in the Weddell Sea. Chile and Argentina, meanwhile, are working on a proposal to protect the high seas surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula, the most rapidly warming part of the frozen continent.
© 2016 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. All Rights Reserved.
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