Google Adds Quantum Physics To Minecraft (PopSci.com)

This is the climax of nerdgasms everywhere: Minecraft + Google + Quantum Physics.


It’s as trippy as you suspect.

Minecraft,” the Lego-style, build-your-own-game game, has been the canvas for some awesome projects. (For just one example: this gigantic scientific graphing calculator.) Now Google’s Quantum A.I. Lab is taking it in an even weirder direction: quantum physics.

The team created a modified version of the game, called qCraft, that lets players explore the fundamentals of the field by playing in a world based on quantum principles. From a post on Google+ announcing the game:

We talked to our friends at MinecraftEdu and Caltech’s Institute for Quantum Information and Matter and came up with a fun idea: a Minecraft modpack called qCraft. It lets players experiment with quantum behaviors inside Minecraft’s world, with new blocks that exhibit quantum entanglement, superposition, and observer dependency.

Is it a true simulacrum of a blocky quantum universe? Ha, no. But considering just how strange the field is, that probably wouldn’t make for a fun game. Instead, it’s just a way of teaching the basics, and Google admits as much:

Of course, qCraft isn’t a perfect scientific simulation, but it’s a fun way for players to experience a few parts of quantum mechanics outside of thought experiments or dense textbook examples.

You can download the game here.

Google Launches Internet-Beaming Balloons

Unlicensed spectrum is the key to this massive undertaking by Google to provide internet access worldwide, including any place on earth – regardless of terrain or current broadband access. This is a remarkable experiment and one that could revolutionize both third world countries along with emerging markets by generating critical access to information and resources.

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Associated Press/Google, Andrea Dunlap – In this June 10, 2013 photo released by Google, solar panels and electronics are prepared for launch in Tekapo, New Zealand. Google is testing balloons which sail in the stratosphere and beam the Internet to Earth. (AP Photo/Google, Andrea Dunlap) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — Wrinkled and skinny at first, the translucent, jellyfish-shaped balloons that Google released this week from a frozen field in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island hardened into shiny pumpkins as they rose into the blue winter skies above Lake Tekapo, passing the first big test of a lofty goal to get the entire planet online.

It was the culmination of 18 months’ work on what Google calls Project Loon, in recognition of how wacky the idea may sound. Developed in the secretive X lab that came up with a driverless car and web-surfing eyeglasses, the flimsy helium-filled inflatables beam the Internet down to earth as they sail past on the wind.

Still in their experimental stage, the balloons were the first of thousands that Google’s leaders eventually hope to launch 20 kilometers (12 miles) into the stratosphere in order to bridge the gaping digital divide between the world’s 4.8 billion unwired people and their 2.2 billion plugged-in counterparts.

If successful, the technology might allow countries to leapfrog the expense of laying fiber cable, dramatically increasing Internet usage in places such as Africa and Southeast Asia.

“It’s a huge moonshot. A really big goal to go after,” said project leader Mike Cassidy. “The power of the Internet is probably one of the most transformative technologies of our time.”

The first person to get Google Balloon Internet access this week was Charles Nimmo, a farmer and entrepreneur in the small town of Leeston. He found the experience a little bemusing after he was one of 50 locals who signed up to be a tester for a project that was so secret, no one would explain to them what was happening. Technicians came to the volunteers’ homes and attached to the outside walls bright red receivers the size of basketballs and resembling giant Google map pins.

Nimmo got the Internet for about 15 minutes before the balloon transmitting it sailed on past. His first stop on the Web was to check out the weather because he wanted to find out if it was an optimal time for “crutching” his sheep, a term he explained to the technicians refers to removing the wool around sheep’s rear ends.

Nimmo is among the many rural folk, even in developed countries, that can’t get broadband access. After ditching his dial-up four years ago in favor of satellite Internet service, he’s found himself stuck with bills that sometimes exceed $1,000 in a single month.

“It’s been weird,” Nimmo said of the Google Balloon Internet experience. “But it’s been exciting to be part of something new.”

While the concept is new, people have used balloons for communication, transportation and entertainment for centuries. In recent years, the military and aeronautical researchers have used tethered balloons to beam Internet signals back to bases on earth.

Google’s balloons fly free and out of eyesight, scavenging power from card table-sized solar panels that dangle below and gather enough charge in four hours to power them for a day as the balloons sail around the globe on the prevailing winds. Far below, ground stations with Internet capabilities about 100 kilometers (60 miles) apart bounce signals up to the balloons.

The signals would hop forward, from one balloon to the next, along a backbone of up to five balloons.

Each balloon would provide Internet service for an area twice the size of New York City, about 1,250 square kilometers (780 square miles), and terrain is not a challenge. They could stream Internet into Afghanistan’s steep and winding Khyber Pass or Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, a country where the World Bank estimates four out of every 100 people are online.

There are plenty of catches, including a requirement that anyone using Google Balloon Internet would need a receiver plugged into their computer in order to receive the signal. Google is not talking costs at this point, although they’re striving to make both the balloons and receivers as inexpensive as possible, dramatically less than laying cables.

The signals travel in the unlicensed spectrum, which means Google doesn’t have to go through the onerous regulatory processes required for Internet providers using wireless communications networks or satellites. In New Zealand, the company worked with the Civil Aviation Authority on the trial. Google chose the country in part because of its remoteness. Cassidy said in the next phase of the trial they hope to get up to 300 balloons forming a ring on the 40th parallel south from New Zealand through Australia, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina.

Christchurch was a symbolic launch site because some residents were cut off from online information for weeks following a 2011 earthquake that killed 185 people. Google believes balloon access could help places suffering natural disasters get quickly back online. Tania Gilchrist, a resident who signed up for the Google trial, feels lucky she lost her power for only about 10 hours on the day of the quake.

“After the initial upheaval, the Internet really came into play,” she said. “It was how people coordinated relief efforts and let people know how to get in touch with agencies. It was really, really effective and it wasn’t necessarily driven by the authorities.”

At Google’s mission control in Christchurch this week, a team of jet lagged engineers working at eight large laptops used wind data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to maneuver the balloons over snowy peaks, identifying the wind layer with the desired speed and direction and then adjusting balloons’ altitudes so they floated in that layer.

“It’s a very fundamentally democratic thing that what links everyone together is the sky and the winds,” said Richard DeVaul, an MIT-trained scientist who founded Project Loon and helped develop Google Glass, hidden camera-equipped eyeglasses with a tiny computer display that responds to voice commands.

DeVaul initially thought their biggest challenge would be establishing the radio links from earth to sky, but in the end, one of the most complex parts was hand building strong, light, durable balloons that could handle temperature and pressure swings in the stratosphere.

Google engineers studied balloon science from NASA, the Defense Department and the Jet Propulsion Lab to design their own airships made of plastic films similar to grocery bags. Hundreds have been built so far.

He said they wouldn’t interfere with aircraft because they fly well below satellites and twice as high as airplanes, and they downplayed concerns about surveillance, emphasizing that they would not carry cameras or any other extraneous equipment.

The balloons would be guided to collection points and replaced periodically. In cases when they failed, a parachute would deploy.

While there had been rumors, until now Google had refused to confirm the project. But there have been hints: In April, Google’s executive chairman tweeted “For every person online, there are two who are not. By the end of the decade, everyone on Earth will be connected,” prompting a flurry of speculative reports.

And international aid groups have been pushing for more connectivity for more than a decade.

In pilot projects, African farmers solved disease outbreaks after searching the Web, while in Bangladesh “online schools” bring teachers from Dhaka to children in remote classrooms through large screens and video conferencing.

Many experts said the project has the potential to fast-forward developing nations into the digital age, possibly impacting far more people than the Google X lab’s first two projects: The glasses and a fleet of self-driving cars that have already logged hundreds of thousands of accident-free miles.

“Whole segments of the population would reap enormous benefits, from social inclusion to educational and economic opportunities,” said DePauw University media studies professor Kevin Howley.

Temple University communications professor Patrick Murphy warned of mixed consequences, pointing to China and Brazil where Internet service increased democratic principles, prompting social movements and uprisings, but also a surge in consumerism that has resulted in environmental and health problems.

“The nutritional and medical information, farming techniques, democratic principles those are the wonderful parts of it,” he said. “But you also have everyone wanting to drive a car, eat a steak, drink a Coke.”

As the world’s largest advertising network, Google itself stands to expand its own empire by bringing Internet to the masses: More users means more potential Google searchers, which in turn give the company more chances to display their lucrative ads.

Richard Bennett, a fellow with the nonprofit Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, was skeptical, noting that cell phones are being used far more in developing countries.

“I’m really glad that Google is doing this kind of speculative research,” he said. “But it remains to be seen how practical any of these things are.”

Ken Murdoch, a chief information officer for the nonprofit Save the Children, said the service would be “a tremendous key enabler” during natural disasters and humanitarian crises, when infrastructure can be nonexistent or paralyzed.

“The potential of a system that can restore connectivity within hours of a crisis hitting is tremendously exciting,” agreed Imogen Wall at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, although she warned that the service must be robust. “If the service fails in a crisis, then lives are lost.”

In Christchurch this week, the balloons were invisible in the sky except for an occasional glint, but people could see them if they happened to be in the remote countryside where they were launched or through binoculars, if they knew where to look.

Before heading to New Zealand, Google spent a few months secretly launching between two and five flights a week in California’s central valley, prompting what Google’s scientists said were a handful of unusual reports on local media.

“We were chasing balloons around from trucks on the ground,” said DeVaul, “and people were calling in reports about UFOs.”

Original Yahoo! Article

Google Builds 108 Terapixel Portrait of Earth (Arstechnica.com)

A frame of Timelapse’s view of the growth of Las Vegas, Nevada.

 

In May, Google unveiled Earth Engine, a set of technologies and services that combine Google’s existing global mapping capabilities with decades of historical satellite data from both NASA and the US Geological Survey (USGS). One of the first products emerging from Earth Engine is Timelapse—a Web-based view of changes on the Earth’s surface over the past three decades, published in collaboration with Time magazine.

The “Global Timelapse” images are also viewable through the Earth Engine site, which allows you to pan and zoom to any location on the planet and watch 30 years of change, thanks to 66 million streaming video tiles. The result is “an incontrovertible description of what’s happened on our planet due to urban growth, climate change, et cetera,” said Google Vice President of Research and Special Initiatives Alfred Spector.

But that’s just the surface of what Google has created with Earth Engine. In an exclusive interview with Ars Technica, Spector and Google Visiting Scientist Randy Sargent drilled down on how Google, using software developed by Sargent’s team at Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, has generated what amounts to an animated 108 terapixel time-lapse portrait of the planet. Here’s how the company did it.

The big picture

“We began to realize a few years back that Google Maps could be augmented to support all sorts of data,” Specter said. “We had this idea that we could extend it to support multispectral (imagery) data. And given that we were getting feeds over time, we could store them as time-based sets, so you could go back and forth in time to look at changes. That idea became the Earth Engine project.”

Over 45 years of NASA satellite data has been “ingested into Earth engine,” said Sargent. “That’s been married to Google’s compute infrastructure, so you can detect deforestation or find land use changes.”

Sargent’s team used 909 terabytes of data from the Landsat 4, 5, and 8 satellites—with each of the million images weighing in at more than 100 megapixels.

Landsat’s polar orbit allows each satellite to take a full set of images of the Earth’s surface every 16 days. But not all of those images are keepers due to weather and other factors. “It’s not as easy as just lining up the pixels,” Sargent said. “Most of the challenges involved dealing with the atmosphere—if it’s cloudy, you’re not seeing anything. And if it’s hazy, you have to look through it. So we had to build mosaics that excluded cloudy images and then correct for haze.”

To do that, Google used 20 terabytes of data from MODIS (MODerate resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) sensors on NASA’s Earth Observing System Terra and Aqua satellites. “MODIS captures the entire planet daily,” said Sargent. “It has enough different spectral bands (ultraviolet through infrared) that it helps us analyze what it sees in the atmosphere.” Using MODIS’ MCD43A4 data (which provides information on ground and atmospheric reflectance), the Earth Engine team built a cloud-free, low-resolution model of the Earth for each year for which data was available.

That data was used to create statistical estimates for the color of each pixel of Landsat coverage and to correct for seasonal variance in vegetation, haze, and cloud cover.

Early years of the dataset had gaps due to the 1987 failure of Landsat 5’s Ku-band transmitter—which prevented the downlink of imagery collected outside the range of US and cooperating international ground stations. This meant large chunks of Asia (particularly in China) were not covered by Landsat’s archives until 1999. So to get a complete picture for each year, the data was interpolated between years where images were available.

Processing all of the data to produce the final mosaics representing each of the 29 years covered—from 1984 to 2012—took under a day, using 260,000 core-hours of CPU time in Google’s compute cloud.

Serving up the time machine

With 29 world-spanning mosaics mapped to Google’s model of the Earth, the next step was to make the images explorable both in space and time. To achieve this, Sargent’s Carnegie Mellon research team extended the open source GigaPan Time Machine software developed by Carnegie Mellon’sCREATE Lab.

Time Machine ingests very high-resolution videos and converts them into multiple overlapping multi-resolution video tiles delivered as a stream, using manipulation of HTML5’s video tag in a way similar to how Google uses HTML image tags to pan and zoom in Google Maps.

Previous Time Machine projects had handled videos with billions of pixels of resolution. But Time-Lapse Earth pushed the envelope for Time Machine, because of the size of the data. The 30-meter-per-pixel video was generated from 29 Mercator-projected mosaics created by Earth Engine, and each frame had 1.78 trillion pixels.

In order to generate the millions of overlapping videos required and integrate them into Earth Engine’s geospatial search capabilities, CMU researchers had to connect Time Machine into Earth Engine and Google’s computing and storage infrastructure. Just encoding the videos for Global Timelapse consumed 1.4 million core-hours of compute time. The total process of creating the Timelapse application took 3 days of total processing time, 1.8 million core-hours, and at its peak used 66,000 cores simultaneously in Google’s cloud.

In order to seamlessly present the final product through a Web browser as users zoom and pan through it, Time Machine created what Sargent called  “a tree of tiles.” Each individual video that represents a “viewport” in the Global Timelapse data is a video file, indexed in a treed table of contents by Earth Engine.

“The client makes a request for the fragment of the video for the location a user is looking at, which includes the table of contents,” said Sargent. “As you’re switching resolution levels or locations, you have one set of video information on screen, and on the back end we’re cueing up other videos ahead of time to anticipate where you’re going to look next.”

The video frames extend beyond the boundary of the “viewport” given to the user so that the system has some slack in responding to a user panning around a location.

While the Global Timelapse is a powerful educational tool showing the impact we have on our environment, Google’s Earth Engine is also aimed at being a platform to provide researchers and policymakers worldwide with satellite data and other data sets they may not have had the resources to use before. “There are a number of partners who are currently using Earth Engine,” Spector said, “primarily earth scientists.” Google is also seeking other sources of geospatial data sets to add to Earth Engine to extend its usefulness.

Google is still exploring the potential applications of the underlying data.There’s also an Earth Engine API, based on Python—but it’s currently restricted to Google’s partners.

Original Arstechnica Article

Google Predicts Movie Success Before Release

Google just published an 11-page document ripe with all of the reasons you need to use Google Search, called “Quantifying Movie Magic with Google Search”. By reviewing the number of times a film is searched for the month prior to the premiere, Google can predict with 90%-92% accuracy the movie’s earnings during its first two weeks in theaters. Obviously this doesn’t predict total earnings, but those first two weeks are an extremely strong indicator of how significant the box office earnings will be.

http://www.google.com/think/research-studies/quantifying-movie-magic.html

Do you use Google to search for movies? Do you care what reviews say or do you attend the movies you enjoy anyway?

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