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EurekAlert / 3-Aug-2015
MIPT researchers clear the way for fast plasmonic chips
Сотрудники лаборатории нанооптики и плазмоники МФТИ разработали новый способ оптической связи, позволяющий уменьшить размеры оптических и оптоэлектронных элементов и увеличить быстродействие компьютеров в десятки раз.
Статья «Full loss compensation in hybrid plasmonic waveguides under electrical pumping» опубликована в журнале Optics Express.
Researches from the Laboratory of Nanooptics and Plasmonics at the MIPT Center of Nanoscale Optoelectronics have developed a new method for optical communication on a chip, which will give a possibility to decrease the size of optical and optoelectronic elements and increase the computer performance several tenfold. According to their article published in Optics Express, they have proposed the way to completely eliminate energy losses of surface plasmons in optical devices.
"Surface plasmon polaritons have previously been proposed to be used as information carriers for optical communication, but the problem is that the signal is rapidly attenuated propagating along plasmonic waveguides. Now, we have come very close to the complete solution of this problem. Our approach clears the way for the development of a new generation of high performance optoelectronic chips", says Dmitry Fedyanin, the head of the research.
Modern electronics is based on the use of electrons as information carriers, but they have ceased to meet the contemporary requirements: standard electrical copper wires and channels on chips cannot transfer information with speeds sufficient for modern microprocessors. This currently hinders the microprocessor performance growth; hence, the implementation of new groundbreaking technologies is required to maintain Moore's law.
Transition from electrical to optical pulses can solve the problem. The high frequency of light waves (hundreds of terahertz) allows transferring and processing more data, and, therefore, gives a possibility to increase performance. Fiber optic technologies are widely used in communication networks, but the use of light in microprocessors and logical elements faces the problem of diffraction limit, since the size of waveguides and other optical elements cannot be significantly smaller than the light wavelength. These are micrometers for near-infrared radiation used for optical communications, which doesn't meet the requirements of the contemporary electronics. Logical elements of standard contemporary processors are dozens of nanometers in size. "Optical electronics" can become competitive only if light is "compressed" to this scale.
Overcoming the diffraction limit is possible with transition from photons to surface plasmon polaritons, which are collective excitations emerging due to interaction between photons and electron oscillations on the boundary between a metal and an insulator. They are also called quasi-particles, because, by their properties, they are quite similar to standard particles such as photons or electrons. Unlike three-dimensional light waves, surface polaritons "hold on" the boundary between two media. This gives a possibility to switch from the conventional three-dimensional optics to a two-dimensional optics.
"Roughly speaking, a photon occupies a certain volume in space, which is of the order of the light wavelength. We can "compress" it, transforming into a surface plasmon polariton. Using this approach, we can improve the integration density and reduce the size of optical elements. Unfortunately, this brilliant solution has its flip side. For the surface plasmon polariton to exist, a metal, or more specifically, an electron gas in the metal, is needed. This leads to excessively high Joule losses similar to those one has when the current is passed through metal wires or resistors", says Dr. Fedyanin.
According to him, the surface plasmon energy drops a billion times at distances of around one millimeter due to absorption in the metal, which de facto makes the practical implementation of surface plasmons pointless.
"Our idea is to compensate the surface plasmon propagation losses by pumping extra energy to surface plasmon polaritons. It should be also noted that, if we want to integrate plasmonic waveguides on a chip, we can use only electrical pumping," explains the researcher.
He, together with his colleagues Dmitry Svintsov and Aleksey Arsenin from the Laboratory of Nanooptics and Plasmonics, has developed a new method of electric pumping of plasmonic waveguides based on the metal-insulator-semiconductor (MIS) structure and carried out its simulations. The results show that the passage of relatively weak pump currents through the nanoscale plasmonic waveguides give a possibility to fully compensate the surface plasmon propagation losses. This means that it becomes possible to transmit a signal over long distances (in chip standards) with no losses. At the same time, the integration density of such active plasmonic waveguides is an order of magnitude higher than that of photonic waveguides.
"Working in optoelectronics, we always need to find a compromise between optical and electrical properties, whereas in plasmonics it is almost impossible, since the choice of metals is limited to three or four materials. The main advantage of the proposed pumping scheme is that it doesn't dependent on the properties of the metal-semiconductor contact. For each semiconductor, we can find an appropriate insulator, which allows to achieve the same efficiency level as in double heterostructure lasers. At the same time, we are able to maintain the typical plasmonic structure size at a level of 100 nanometers," says Fedyanin.
The researchers note that their results are awaiting an experimental verification, but the key difficulty has been eliminated.
Copyright © 2015 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
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FierceDrugDelivery / August 11, 2015
Liposomal drug delivery enters the spotlight in new Russian-U.S. report
Ученые из МФТИ и Северо-Восточного университета (США) представили обзор микроскопических сфер липосом, которые используются для создания новых лекарств: систематизировали основные достижения, обозначили наиболее перспективные направления дальнейшего развития, рассмотрели возможности применения не только в медицине, но и в других сферах.
Статья «New Developments in Liposomal Drug Delivery» опубликована в журнале Chemical Review.
Scientists have long been looking to liposomes for drug delivery, and a new contingent of researchers from Moscow and Boston published a report this week in the journal Chemical Review looking back at how far the tiny vehicles have come since their development in the 1960s and forward to where they have yet to go.
The international research team investigated several of the more important aspects of liposomal delivery, including the manufacture of the vehicles, the different structures and shapes possible and also the methods of delivery, including targeting mechanisms and release.
Liposomes are often spherical, microscopic shells made with a similar structure as a cell membrane and with some of the same functions. Most of all, with its combination of hydrophilic and hydrophobic molecular components, it allows for a separation of the liposome's contents with the surrounding environment. This makes them ideal for drug delivery as they can "protect" the drug and, in the case of cytotoxins used to fight cancer, protect healthy cells from the drug while targeting a tumor.
Vladimir Torchilin of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology has been working with liposomes since the late 1970s and is the main author of the new report. He joined scientists from Northeastern University in putting it together.
Beyond just drug delivery, the authors also looked forward to different uses for liposomes, including molecular imaging, vaccine delivery and analytical applications, as well as the regulatory hurdles now faced and expected down the road.
© 2015 FierceMarkets, a division of Questex, LLC. All rights reserved.
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EurekAlert / 12-Aug-2015
New life of old molecules: Calcium carbide
Исследователи из Санкт-Петербургского государственного университета и Института органической химии им. Н.Д.Зелинского РАН предложили инновационный метод синтеза органических соединений тиоэфиров напрямую из карбида кальция, пропуская этап выделения газообразного ацетилена, что значительно упрощает и удешевляет процесс.
Статья «Efficient Metal-Free Pathway to Vinyl Thioesters with Calcium Carbide as the Acetylene Source» опубликована в журнале Green Chemistry.
Over the last few decades, researchers have focused their attention on very large molecules and molecular systems. Scientists from all over the world study proteomics, genomics, construct complex proteins, nucleic acids, decode the genomes of entire organisms, and design new sub-cellular structures. Outstanding enthusiasm for these important and essential areas of science has become so widespread that the question arose: "Is there a place for small organic molecules in modern science?" It might seem that old and well-known small organic molecules, as well as some areas of classical organic chemistry, have been forgotten.
Remarkably, despite the above mentioned trend of mega-molecules, state-of-the-art research anticipates re-investigation of tiny molecules. Indeed, small molecules carry a huge and previously unrevealed potential for science and industry. Renaissance in this area of science initiated an enlightenment of the well-known small molecules. An example of a small molecule is acetylene and derivative of acetylene - CaC2 or calcium carbide.
Friedrich Wohler first introduced the prominent calcium carbide in 1862. As a matter of fact, this breakthrough revolutionized the lighting in the 20th century Europe and US. The manufacture of carbide reached thousands of tons by the middle of the last century. Such an increase was caused by the fact that carbide was mainly used for the production of acetylene. Nevertheless, the end of carbide lamps era came with the advent of safer electric light sources. The development of catalysis and petrochemistry introduced cheaper acetylene sources, so calcium carbide was left behind.
An innovative method, proposed by a group of researchers led by Professor Ananikov, investigates the synthesis of valuable organic molecules directly from calcium carbide, without separation and storage of acetylene gas. As an example, thiovinylation reaction occured directly in the reaction mixture. Firstly, acetylene is allocated from calcium carbide and water, and secondly, thiol molecules get attached to the acetylene molecules. Both processes take place one-pot and do not require sophisticated equipment. The use of calcium carbide not only fundamentally simplifies and reduces the cost of synthesis, but also avoids the problems associated with transporting, storing, and handling of acetylene gas.
The developed process gives a vivid example of successful replacement of dangerous and difficult to handle acetylene gas by a simple and inexpensive calcium carbide. If the further research manages to carry out the chemistry of acetylene utilizing carbide-based technologies, the proposed method will open a new direction in organic chemistry. Without a doubt, the "little" calcium carbide will find its place in modern chemistry, which acknowledges the ideas of safety, sustainability, and simplification.
Copyright © 2015 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
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Royal Society of Chemistry / 13 August 2015
Russia faces international scientific blockade
К концу года многие научно-исследовательские учреждения могут столкнуться с нехваткой оборудования - западные фирмы отказываются от поставок в Россию, опасаясь санкций.
Russian science's isolation is deepening, reflected by dwindling international research cooperation, as well as restrictions on the country's scientists' access to imported scientific equipment and western journals. The Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) says that many domestic universities and scientific institutions may face a shortage of research equipment by the end of the year. This is because many firms outside Russia, particularly in the EU, are refusing to supply Russian scientists for fear of falling foul of sanctions.
Representatives of some of Russia's leading universities have confirmed that they face supply problems, particularly those from the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. A spokesman for the Russian Institute of Laser Physics, says that much of the institute's scientific equipment is imported from Japan. However, due to the sanctions, the volume of supplies has significantly declined. Alexander Shilov, a physicist at the Institute of Laser Physics, says that in recent months it has become practically impossible to buy any dual purpose laser parts or supplies from western countries, due to the fears that they could be used by the military.
A spokesman for Viktor Ivanov, president of the Russian Union of Chemists, says that the domestic chemistry and physics industries were among those hardest hit by western sanctions. Imports of scientific instruments were suspended and also materiel to modernise industry has ground to a halt. However, Ivanov's spokesman says that sanctions have not affected sales at most Russian chemical companies as most of the industry's goods are sold domestically.
The RAS says there is hope for resolving this scientific blockade, however. Supplies of scientific equipment may soon be resumed - from the US at least - thanks to talks between the RAS and the US Academy of Sciences on accelerating cooperation between the two countries. Vladimir Fortov, head of the academy, says that part of these plans will see the two countries strengthen cooperation in the field of renewable energy, environmental protection and climate research, as well as non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology.
Soviet era casts shadow
The current political climate has also made travelling to conferences or to meet collaborators more difficult for Russian scientists. In recent months many Russian universities and scientific institutions have curbed scientific trips to western countries, reportedly for fear that scientists may be lured away.
Some Russian research institutions are even considering tightening controls on scientists who have strong connections with western scientific organisations and journals. This is expected to be implemented through the use of former Soviet schemes, such as the establishment of special divisions at universities that will record any research published by Russian scientists in western journals.
These measures have already been criticised by the scientists from the RAS. Fortov says that since the collapse of the USSR attending conferences is no longer luxury but commonplace among Russian scientists. "However, if western sanctions affect international scientific contacts this will be a step backwards," he adds. "It should be also understood that this would also damage our foreign colleagues."
Ongoing complications accessing information are another pressing problem facing Russian scientists. This is reflected by a lack of access to some leading western scientific journals and magazines, caused by financial problems. Sharp devaluation of the ruble this year left the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, a government funding agency, unable to pay journal subscription fees to the publisher Springer.
Fortov says that this problem may still be resolved with government intervention. The RAS is now considering a petition to Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister, requesting that he step in to arrange payment of journal subscription fees.
© Royal Society of Chemistry 2015.
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MINA / Monday, 17 August 2015
Artificial brain - educates itself
Ученые Томского государственного университета совместно с коллегами из Германии, Болгарии, Украины, Белоруссии и Казахстана создали искусственный мозг - способную к самообучению физическую модель. С его помощью можно будет моделировать и исследовать различные расстройства памяти, болезни Альцгеймера, Паркинсона и разрабатывать новые методы лечения.
In a step closer to developing artificial intellect, Russian scientists have created a physical model of a brain that is able to educate itself.
An international team of scientists at a laboratory in Tomsk State University in western Siberia have created a device that could be an artificial carrier of a natural mind, able to learn and react to the environment, according to a press release, published by the university on Monday.
Russian scientists have teamed up with their colleagues from Germany, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan to tackle a problem which has bothered researchers for decades: the process apparently requires the copying of 100 million brain neurons and one trillion of their connections. The main system of a robotic complex is currently being developed as an intellectual control center.
"First, we built mathematic and computer models of the human brain," head of the laboratory Vladimir Syryamkin said in the press release. "Afterwards an electronic device with perceptrons was constructed. It is capable of processing diverse information (video, sound, etc.)."
The physical prototype can accumulate life experience it gains from various external stimuli, for example by turning away from a source of light or moving away from it. In the case of success, the artificial mind is able memorize it and use it in similar situations.
"In the end, an artificial brain could become an analogue of the biological model," main developer Vladimir Shumilov said. "We've got colossal scale of work in front of us, but one major step is already done - we have managed to crack a mystery of brain neural system."
"The creation of new neuron nets and degeneration of the already existing ones takes place in our physical model, as in the human brain. It is the process of forgetting in humans," Shumilov added.
In the future, the project will be overseen by biologists and psychologists, but its major appliance is seen in the field of healthcare. The artificial brain could be used to make models of pathological state of various dementias, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, and choose methods of drug correction.
Another field of the future use is robotic systems and neurocomputers.
© Macedonian International News Agency 2015.
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FreshPlaza / 8/17/2015
Russia: Researchers in Astrakhan to introduce new green eggplant
Во Всероссийском НИИ орошаемого овощеводства и бахчеводства (ВНИИОБ) выводят новый сорт баклажана - зеленого цвета и без горечи. Первые экземпляры, представленные на выставке, уже вызвали интерес у фермеров.
Astrakhan breeders are developing a new variety of eggplant, pale green in color and not bitter.
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The head of the All-Russian Research and Development Institute of Irrigated Vegetables and Melons (VNIIOB) Sergey Sokolov reported this to the Tass news agency. "It almost doesn't form a skin, from the very beginning, until maturation, it has a pale green color and the skin is very tender. This eggplant does not need to be peeled," he added.
The new eggplants have an elongated shape, "icicles". The variety was introduced by chance, when scientists noticed a green fruit among the ordinary purple eggplants. "We cut this fruit and then obtained several seeds, now we have several such plants. It will be a few years before the new variety is established, but it's already possible to look at it," he stated.
The first eggplants will be submitted for biochemical analysis to determine how the composition is different from conventional varieties, and how healthy they are. According to Sokolova, breeders want to establish how suitable the variety is for processing.
The provincial ministry of agriculture and the fishing industry reported to a correspondent for Tass that they knew about the new development. The green eggplant was presented at the recent exhibition "Field Day 2015" and attracted interest from farmers. It was noted by the ministry that the work of the Astrakhan breeders is much in demand. For example, the seeds of the "moon" watermelon (with yellow flesh) have already been bought by many regions in Russia. On the experimental fields VNIIOB grow more than 300 different varieties of melons annually. In addition, breeders are developing new types of tomatoes and onions and there are 40 promising varieties of watermelon, which will soon pass the State Variety Release Committee.
Phys.Org / August 24, 2015
Researchers provide experimental foundation for optical computing
Физики из МГУ, Института Френеля (Франция) и Университета Кантабрии (Испания) открыли возможность использования маленьких диэлектрических сфер с большим показателем преломления в качестве новых многофункциональных элементов оптических устройств.
Статья «Small Dielectric Spheres with High Refractive Index as New Multifunctional Elements for Optical Devices» опубликована в журнале Scientific Reports.
Someday, our computers, nanoantennas and other kinds of equipment may operate on the basis of photons rather than electrons. Even now, researchers are preparing to accomplish this technological switch. An international group of Russian, French and Spanish scientists have made a contribution toward the elementary components of new photonic devices. The results of their study have been published in the latest issue of Scientific Reports.
During last four decades, Moore's law, according to which computer's processor speed doubles every 18 months, was reached due to increasing of the operating frequency of a single processor. Now the same result is reached by means of parallel computing - we have dual-core processors as well as quad-core ones. It means that manufacturers can't double the speeds of single-core processors because the operating frequency of modern computer processors is close to the theoretical limit. Multiplying the number of cores is also not a long-term solution; by all accounts, it will soon reach its limit, as well. That's why research teams all around the world are working toward the creation of super-fast optical systems, which would be able to replace electronic computers.
On one hand, such systems should be as small as possible. On the other hand, optical radiation has its own scale - the wavelength (in the visible range of the spectrum it is about 0.5 micrometers). This scale is too big to be implemented in modern electronic devices with ultra-dense arrangements of elements. In order to compete with such electronic devices, optical systems should work on scales much shorter than the wavelengths. These problems fall within the domain of a modern discipline called subwavelength optics. The aim of subwavelength optics is to manipulate electromagnetic radiation on scales shorter than its wavelength - in other words, to do the things that are considered to be conceptually impossible in the traditional optics of lenses and mirrors.
Until recently, subwavelength optics researchers explored effects related to interactions of light with so-called plasmons - collective oscillations of free electron gas in metals. In the case of metal particles with sizes around 10 nm, the oscillation frequencies of the free electron gas fall within the range of the optical band. If such a particle is irradiated with an electromagnetic wave whose frequency is equal to one of the particle's plasmon oscillation frequencies, a resonance occurs. At the resonance, the particle acts as a funnel, which "grabs" the electromagnetic wave's energy from the external environment and converts it into the energy of the electronic gas oscillations. This process can be accompanied with a wide range of interesting effects that, in principle, could be employed in various applications.
Unfortunately, plasmonics has not met these expectations. The fact is that even very good electric conductors (for example, copper or platinum) exhibit significant electric resistance when the frequency of the electric current reaches the same order of magnitude as that of visible light. Therefore, as a rule, the plasmon oscillations are strongly damped, and the damping kills the computationally useful effects.
Recently, scientists turned their attention to dielectric materials with high refractive index. There are no free electrons in these materials because they are all bound to their atoms and the impact of light does not induce conduction current. At the same time, electromagnetic waves affect atoms' electrons and shift them from their equilibrium. As a result, atoms acquire induced electric moment; this process is called polarization. The higher the degree of polarization is, the higher the refractive index of the material. It turns out that when a sphere made of a material with high refraction index interacts with light, the result of this interaction to a large extent resembles the above-described plasmon resonance in metals with one very important exception: A wide range of dielectric materials - as distinct from metals - have weak damping at the optical frequencies. We often use this property of dielectrics in our everyday life - for example, weak damping at the optical frequencies is the key for the transparency of glass.
Old research by Professor Michael Tribelsky of the Faculty of Physics, M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University, inspired the recent research described above. The scientist says, "If we relate the language of quantum physics to plasmon excitation, we can say that a quantum of light, a photon, is converted into a quantum of plasmon oscillations. I had the following idea: Since all processes in quantum mechanics are reversible, the inverted process of the plasmon-to-photon conversion should also be possible. Then I arrived at the conclusion that a new type of light scattering exists. This was, indeed, the case. Moreover, it occurred to me that this new type of light scattering has very little in common with that described in all textbooks, Rayleigh scattering."
As a result, paper "Resonant scattering of light by small particles," was published in 1984. However, this work did not attract the attention of scientists, because nanotechnologies did not yet exist. The first citation of this paper occurred in 2004 - exactly 20 years after its publication. Nowadays, this type of scattering, called "anomalous," is widely acknowledged. Unfortunately, even in the case of anomalous scattering, application confronts the fatal role of dissipation. In order to observe anomalous scattering, it is necessary to use metals with very weak damping at optical frequencies.
The very natural question in this case is: If we take advantage of the weak damping of dielectrics, will a sphere made of dielectric materials with a high refraction index demonstrate the effects that cannot be observed in plasmon resonances in metals with strong damping? To answer the question, Professor Tribelsky's laboratory carried out a joint research project with French and Spanish colleagues. Scientists experimented with a dielectric sphere with a diameter about 2 cm made of special ceramics, and used it to redirect the incident electromagnetic waves in a desired manner. Moreover, the directionality of the scattering may be controlled and changed dramatically just by fine tuning of the frequency of the incident wave.
According to Tribelsky's explanation, this sphere has rather narrow resonance lines related to its polarization oscillations. In a sense, it is quite analogous to a metal sphere, which has the resonance frequencies related to the oscillations of the free electron gas. Every line corresponds to the excitation of a particular oscillation mode, called harmonics, or partial modes. Every harmonic is characterized by a fixed dependence between the scattering intensity and the scattering angle. This dependence is determined by the nature of a given harmonic. The sphere's total scattering field is a sum of the contributions of every harmonic (partial wave). Partial waves interfere with each other. The narrow width of these lines allows partial modes to be selectively excited and to control the interference. This, in turn, allows redirecting the incident radiation in a desired way. Thus, the controlled manipulation with the radiation is achieved.
However, why do we speak about nanoscales if the sphere's diameter is about 2 cm? That's just the point. Prof. Tribelsky says, "I can freely speak about the experimental beauty of this work as I'm a theoretician. I just participated in the planning of the experiment, while the entire difficult experimental work was done by my French colleagues. The experimental beauty of this work lies in the following: With the help of the microwave radiation - similar to that used in a mini oven - we have managed to simulate on a centimeter scale all the processes that occur on a nanoscale with visible light. It is widely known that if we have two objects of the same shape but of different sizes and with the same refractive index, they will scatter the electromagnetic waves in the same way, provided the ratio of objects' linear dimensions to the wavelength is the same for both the objects. This was the basis of our experiments. However, the path from the idea to the results was very difficult. Suffice to say that the researchers managed to separate the desired signal from background whose amplitude sometimes was 3000 times larger than that of the signal."
Bearing in mind possible practical applications of the obtained results, it is important to stress that the fabrication technique of such nanospheres for manipulation of optical and near-infrared radiation is cheap and simple. It does not require any exotic or expensive materials, or any sophisticated equipment. Besides optical computers (which, nowadays, remain in the sphere of theoretical), nanoscale spheres described in the paper by Tribelsky and co-authors have a wide range of applications: telecommunication systems, recording, processing and storing of information, diagnosis and treatment of different diseases, and many others.
© Phys.org 2003-2015, Science X network.
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The Wilson Quarterly / Thursday, Aug 27, 2015
The Peculiar History of Computers in the Soviet Union
The story of why the Soviet Union first labeled the computer as a taboo invention, and later believed it would prove the superiority of the communist system.
СССР: от «Кибернетика - «наука» мракобесов» до «Кибернетику - на службу коммунизму!».
In 1948, MIT mathematician Norbert Wiener published Cybernetics, a book that heralded the coming information age. Cybernetics, according to Wiener, is "the science of control and communication in the animal and the machine." Just as the human body sweats or shakes to regulate its temperature, the "Roomba" vacuum-cleaning robot rotates and continues in a different direction after hitting a wall. In either case, both the animal and the machine use information, feedback, and control to interact with their environments and achieve goals.
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By considering animals' methods of control and communication similar to that of machines, Wiener and other scientists were able to design bigger and more powerful machines. A few years before Wiener's book, British mathematician Alan Turing used cybernetic principles to create his Turing machine, which pioneered the design of the modern computer and deciphered Enigma, the "unbreakable" World War Two-era cypher used by the German military.
In the wake of Turing's invention and Wiener's research, a tremendous enthusiasm for cybernetics swept world of American academia. The possibilities of cybernetics, it seemed, were endless. By simply posing the problem or asking the question in a way comprehensible to a logic machine, the machine could churn its gears and produce the correct, logical answer.
In current times, the term cybernetics has become outdated, replaced by more specific terminology in the ever-growing field of information technology. But even in the 1950s, its limitations were evident.
The emerging field of cybernetics was low-hanging fruit for Soviet propagandists looking for new material to demonize America. A 1949 directive "Plan for the Intensification of Anti-American Propaganda in the Near Future" ordered journalists to ramp up the rhetoric. Newspaper headlines soon declared "The Degeneration of Culture in the USA" and "Science in the Service of American Monopolies."
In 1951, Boris Agapov, the science editor of influential Russian magazine Literaturnaia gazeta, stumbled upon Wiener's theory on the cover of Time magazine. "Can Man Build a Superman?" asked the headline. Agapov knew very little about Wiener and even less about cybernetics. But for Agapov, the article was a goldmine of anti-American propaganda. Rather than reading Wiener's book, Agapov paraphrased from Time. The result was an inflammatory article that denounced cybernetics as the "sweet dream" of American capitalists, who aimed to use automation to neuter class-conscious workers.
In the paranoia of Soviet society, both Communist apparatchiks and street merchants heeded the words of the state-run media. Soon after Agapov's article was published, Lenin State Library, a hulking institution that overlooks the Kremlin, pulled Wiener's Cybernetics from circulation. Others followed suit. The Institute of Philosophy labeled Wiener as a "philosophizing ignoramus" who belittled human thought as mere math equations. In 1952, a comic appeared in the magazine Tekhnika - Molodezhi, depicting a dystopic New York in which big business and the military have created robot soldiers, robot gangsters, robot Klansmen - all part of America's nefarious cybernetic master plan.
As the media and other government agencies censored and ridiculed cybernetics, others grew frustrated. For scientists Ekaterina Shkabara and Lev Dashevskii, the daily papers were quickly turning their life's work into a taboo subject. The pair was constructing what became the Small Electronic Calculating Machine (MESM), the first Soviet computer. Like other Soviet scientists, Shkabara and Dashevskii faced a catch-22 with their research: the government demanded that they "criticize and destroy" Western science while simultaneously ordering them to "overtake and surpass" it.
In his book From Newspeak to Cyberspeak, Slava Gerovitch writes, "In the murky waters of Cold War politics, Soviet scientists and engineers were caught between the Scylla of the national defense and the Charybdis of ideological purity" (in Greek mythology, Scylla was a six-headed monster and Charybdis was an inescapable whirlpool). Faced with this contradiction, Shkabara, Dashevskii and other leading Russian scientists tried to appease both sides, publishing articles that denounced Wiener's cybernetics while praising their own research, which undeniably employed cybernetic principles.
Soviet military officials read Agapov's mockery of cybernetics with trepidation. Research into high-speed digital computers had already begun in the Soviet Union, and suddenly it was a treasonous endeavor. Researchers realized they needed to change the language of their work in order to continue it. Instead of "computer memory", they began using the term "storage". "Memory" sounded too human - too much like cybernetics' claim of animal and machine similarity. Likewise, "information" was replaced with "data" and "informational theory" with "the statistical theory of electrical signal transmission with noise". Under this new, ideologically pure nomenclature, cybernetics remained indispensable. Soviet military researchers, quietly and tactfully, kept adapting cybernetic principles for their atomic, ballistic missile, and anti-missile programs.
With the death of Stalin in 1953, the Soviet Union entered the "Khrushchev Thaw." General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev relaxed the strict ideology of Stalin, creating some limited space for dialogue and dissent. Scientists could now study abroad and invite foreign colleagues to Moscow. No longer having to "Criticize and Destroy" Western science, scientists celebrated cybernetics, erasing its taboo status. The Academy of Sciences began publishing a periodical, Cybernetics in the Service of Communism. By 1961, the government was directing the construction of computer factories.
The Party Central Committee now envisioned a use for cybernetics beyond guiding missiles: optimizing the economy. A national computer network was formed to amass and share economic data in real time. The plan was so grandiose that the CIA created a panel to investigate it. In a 1962 memo, Arthur Schlesinger, a senior aide to President Kennedy, fretted that "by 1970, the USSR may have a radically new production technology, involving total enterprises or complexes of industries, managed by closed-loop, feedback control employing self-teaching computers."
But like many things in the Soviet Union, the whole endeavor was frustrated by the glacial pace and reticent attitudes of bureaucracy. Instead of using computers to increase communication and efficiency, each economic ministry individualized its computer systems, estranging itself to protect power and relevance. The result of the economy's computerization? More data than anyone knew what to do with.
By 1985, Soviet economic agencies produced 800 billion documents per year - 3,000 documents for each Soviet citizen. More and more paperwork had to pass through the same number of officials, creating delays and stagnation. Gerovitch notes that in order to produce something as simple as a flat iron, a factory manager needed the signatures of 60 different bureaucrats. The bureaucrats themselves submitted, forged, or exaggerated data to keep their superiors happy. Of the billions of documents produced, few were of any value.
Many in the Soviet Union believed computers would secure their position at the top of the world order. Instead, the paper morass created by computers both revealed and exacerbated the economy's shortcomings. Information technology, once "called in to prove the superiority of socialism," concludes Gerovtich, "eventually proved the ineffectiveness of the Soviet regime."
Slava Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002.
Slava Gerovitch, "How the computer got its revenge on the Soviet Union," Nautilus, April 9, 2015.
The Independent / Monday 31 August 2015
Mysterious wooden statue found in peat bog is "twice as old as Stonehenge"
Последние исследования (с использованием технологии ускорительной масс-спектрометрии) «Шигирского идола», деревянной статуи, найденной в 1890 г. в сибирском торфянике, показали, что его возраст около 11 тысяч лет. Таким образом, на данный момент это самая старая резная деревянная скульптура в мире.
A wooden statue pulled from a peat bog in Russia more than a hundred years ago is now believed to be twice as old as Stonehenge.
The Shigir Idol, which found in the Ural Mountains in 1890, is thought to be 11,000 years old - making it the oldest wooden sculpture in the world. Depicting a man with mysterious symbols inscribed on him - which scientists believe could be an ancient encrypted code - the statue is 1,500 years older than previously thought.
Scientists in Mannheim, Germany, used the most up-to-date carbon dating technology, called Accelerated Mass Spectrometry, to determine the statue's age. Thomas Terberger, a professor at the Department of Cultural Heritage of Lower Saxony, part of the team who dated the Idol, told the Siberian Times: "The results exceeded our expectations. This is an extremely important date for the international scientific community. It is important for understanding the development of civilisation and the art of Eurasia and humanity as a whole. We can say that in those times, 11,000 years ago, the hunters, fishermen and gatherers of the Urals were no less developed than the farmers of the Middle East."
A source at the Sverdlovsk History Museum in Yekaterinburg, Russia, where the statue is currently on display, told the Siberian Times: "The first attempt to date the idol was made 107 years after its discovery, in 1997. The first radiocarbon analyses showed that idol was 9,500 calendar years old, which led to disputes in scientific society. To exclude doubts, and to make the results known and accepted, a decision was made to use the most modern technologies to date the Idol again."
Scientists believe the complex runes cut into the wood are encoded information about the origins of the universe from the ancient sculptor. The source called the sculpture "a key to understanding Eurasian art."
The statue was originally 5.3 metres tall but parts of it went missing during the Soviet Era. Now only 2.8 metres remain along with sketches drawn in 1914 by a famous local archaeologist, Vladimir Tolmachev.
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