Thanks to BBC News for this one.
So, they repeated the Neutrino experiment that threw the scientific community into a bit of a debate a little while back. They changed some variables, but the outcome was the same – and it is being assumed that the American Minos team and the Japanese T2K team will probably achieve the same conclusion.
So, again the question is asked – what does this mean for us at the bottom end of the ladder? Especially those of us into technology.
In the short term, not much. The short-term will be filled with verification and retrials in order to make such findings completely watertight. In order to actually advance on a discovery, the scientific community will want to make completely sure this is a solid foundation. It will also mean that many scientific theories that we live by in terms of day-to-day life will need to be revised, scrapped or completely rewritten. After all, before this, nothing was supposed to exceed the theoretical limit – the speed of light. This isn’t just scientific posturing – this is the foundation of much of what we call Electronics today.
Once and if they can make the foundations as solid and foolproof as possible, then we’re into the mid-term. This will be largely driven by business – who will take such an opportunity to work out if and how such findings and mechanics can benefit us in our daily lives. We must remember that early technology founded on this Neutrino principle is very likely to be expensive – the reality is, most of us won’t be able to benefit from it widely because it will simply not be financially viable. As I have said before, in terms of gaming and media we already have a faster alternative to the CD – the SD Card, and it is starting to surpass even the mighty Blu-Ray. There is no need to skip ahead two generations or more just for the sake of something new and snappy on the scene.
So, investment will have to go into it. And this will take some time. There is no quick fix, and nothing is going to change in a matter of months – it could take a decade or more before any technology founded on this new principle is even remotely reliable, financially viable or even safe. So we won’t be seeing any faster-than-light storage devices, or media formats, at least not for quite some time.
The long term is, of course, where it gets interesting. Again, I’d like to dodge the whole idea of space travel – because the kind of pressure in a capsule travelling at the speed of light can’t be balanced even now. Otherwise we’d already have much stronger Space Travel divisions. So too would I like to dodge the theoretical arguments of Time Travel – just because something can travel faster than light, truth is these experiments show that we can still apply basic fundamentals of cause and effect. Just because Neutrinos are faster, it doesn’t mean they’re inherently breaking any other serious rules – that is scientific hype, and poorly grounded when we can observe a neutrino arriving at a destination at a specific point in time.
But of course, speed is king, and the idea that light may not be the fastest method of transmitting information is the sort of thing that should be interesting for the majority of us who enjoy gaming, especially online. If data transfer can operate on a similar level, the next question is – how does that translate into actual stuff I can use?
This is theoretical and based purely on what scientists have said, and my fairly rudimentary understanding of physics. But it could be possible to transmit game data at a much higher speed – meaning that if the compact disc is killed off in the next couple of generations (a serious possibility), that there is also scope for its revival in the future. Of course, at this point we also must remember that the SD-Card revolution is creating storage that far exceeds that of the Blu-Ray now, albeit still relatively expensive in comparison. Any revival of the disc in future will be governed by the amount of storage one can compress into its layers, and such new compression techniques simply do not exist currently.
Even so, the internet is definitely one place where the speed would certainly be noticeable – even at current fiber optic speeds, playing a game line Final Fantasy XIV Online demonstrates the issues facing the internet currently – the servers are housed in Japan, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it means the further you are from the source, the higher your latency will be – simply, it takes longer for me, living in Britain, to receive data from a Japanese server. Speeding up data transfer would certainly help to rectify such situations, and remedy the inherent dangers that face online gamers today.
But to do so will require more expenditure on the very cables and devices transmitting this new faster data – and especially here in the UK, so many places simply do not have the infrastructure in place to handle this. The reason the UK in particular has this problem, forgive the boring history bit, is World War 2. Much of Europe needed to be rebuilt in the last 66 years, and this also meant that telecommunications networks were rebuilt with more sound principles in mind. The UK, in a fair chunk of regions here, are still operating on Victorian principles. A few main cities have better systems in place, but so much of our country was left relatively unscathed, and we had spent so much in the military development in those six years, that we simply could not afford to upgrade everything. Which means right now in the UK, Fiber Optic broadband is still the minority, not the norm, and the average speed is a mere 6.8Mbps. – taking into consideration how woefully unreliable our networks are at peak times. In some places, 15.5Mbps is possible at between 1 and 3 in the morning, but dropping to a pathetic 3.2Mbps at peak times between 4pm and 10pm.
In short, here in the UK – investment on faster networks has only really just begun. And it will cost many tens of billions of British Pounds to do so over many years – assuming 4G takes over, it will still cost a lot to implement, as it will most likely be network exchanges receiving the data. There will still be a requirement to have an upgraded telephone line at a fiber optic level to actually see any real dramatic increase in speed, so even this isn’t a logical shortcut.
Why bore you with this? Well, to achieve the kind of maximum speeds theoretically possible, we’ll need to use very different cabling. Two problems are paramount to the theoretical arguments being bandied about – the first is simple getting the speed, which right now many assume will need to be inside a vacuum. Price, concept and reliability are paramount here – it’s simpler with fiber optics/4G as a weak link can be rerouted around different exchanges before being sent to the appropriate connection. But when a vacuum has a break, it will fundamentally fudge the whole network. This means that this isn’t exactly the easy, simple task of just laying out a load of new albeit expensive cables – it will require almost constant maintenance, which makes it expensive.
The second is the obvious question – if you have to send the data through a vacuum, how do you know it will get to its intended destination? This is not as silly a question as people think, because it will require packing and unpacking data at a different, much higher speed. It’s the kind of strange situation that in the coming years, many will have to work on new rules. This could fundamentally change how data is packaged – which may lead to new media formats, or none at all.
As always, this is hypothetical and I do enjoy a bit of hypothetical rubbish over a weekend. But know this – as exciting as it sounds, as much as we want it to be confirmed by the US and Japan next, if they do we’re in for a new wave of technological advancement – not just a next generation, but a super-generation. One where the very fundamentals of technology are revisited and reworked in the pursuit of new and exciting possibilities.
Just with that said, it could take ten to twenty years before we start seeing any of this. And even if and when we get there, there will be many more questions left to ponder, many more problems to overcome, and many more billions will need to be spent in order to progress the new wave of technological advancement onward.
The reason we won’t be ditching light-speed principles just yet is simply, no-one has the faintest clue on how we can reliably evolve into faster than light without breaking things we already take for granted.
That will take time. But the implications are fantastic – just as the ramifications for getting it wrong could be disastrous…