back to article Think your phone is snooping on you? Hold my beer, says basic physics

Forget the Singularity. That modern myth where AI learns to improve itself in an exponential feedback loop towards evil godhood ain't gonna happen. Spacetime itself sets hard limits on how fast information can be gathered and processed, no matter how clever you are. What we should expect in its place is the robot panopticon, a …

  1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Coat

    Oblig comment

    We are doomed I tell ye... doomed.

    coat with a mega sized roll of ally foil in the pocket. Ideal for making RF shielding hats.

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Oblig comment

      Then years later we learn these crazies were right all along...

    2. Mike 16 Silver badge

      Re: Foil hats

      A well-known security expert [REDACTED] opined over a decade ago that foil was obsolete. All the cool kids were using mu-metal.

    3. phuzz Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Oblig comment

      Tin-foil hats just make things worse.

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: Oblig comment

        You sir owe me a keyboard.... Also interesting to note the page is currently no longer up. They're onto them.

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Oblig comment

        But he used aluminum. Any fool knows it has to be pure, genuine tin for it to work. Different properties, that.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    This is mildly terrifying

    Mildly because even if electromagnetic radiation is unavoidable, I live in the country in a small village. A black van parked not 50 meters from my house is going to stick out like a sore thumb, so I'm not worried for myself.

    However, it is very unsettling to think that the surveillance society that are increasingly going towards is getting easier and easier to accomplish due to the technology that makes our lives more practical.

    Sheesh.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: That black van...

      It is the directional aerial (parabolic) on the roof that will give it away.

      but yes, it is becoming harder to keep our private lives just that, private.

      Welcome... to the machine, the surveillance machine. We are all just pawns inside it. Our puppet masters will be so happy at all that lovely data that they can snoop from us and in the main, we are unable to stop.

      I'd better stop now because I hear one of these [see icon] in the distance

      1. Death Boffin
        Big Brother

        Re: That black van...

        Parabolic dishes are so old school. These days it is a phased array built into the side of the van. With the miracle of modern electronics, it can monitor multiple sources at once.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Phased Array

          Ah... that brings back memories.

          I was taught Control Eng by one of the inventors of the Plessey Squirt Radar system. That was a phased array that evolved in the AR-3D system.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is mildly terrifying

      Memo to Surveillance Team 456A - Pascal will spot a black van. Suggest we use either the muddy tractor or one of the horseboxes. If they aren't available just use one of the really bling range rovers with the fake personal number plates and darkened windows - that should blend in nicely in the countryside.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: This is mildly terrifying

        I'm not worried. Actually, I'd be rather amused if the guys in the black vans muddy horseboxes found me at all interesting.

        Come, say hello, I'll put the kettle on.

        1. Paul Uszak

          Re: This is mildly terrifying

          "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."

          1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

            Re: This is mildly terrifying

            "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."

            But then again, if he gives me a cup of tea, and maybe some really nice biscuits, I might not.

            1. EVP

              Re: This is mildly terrifying

              What if voted for you, would that suffice? Good tea and nice biscuits are so damn hard to find these days.

            2. Graham Dawson Silver badge

              Re: This is mildly terrifying

              Hob nob, digestive, or ginger snap?

              1. Kane Silver badge
                Joke

                Re: This is mildly terrifying

                "Hob nob, digestive, or ginger snap?"

                No, no, we're not starting this again. We all know it's the humble Custard Cream and I will hear nothing more on the subject!

      2. Snake Silver badge

        Re: black van

        No need for all that: who is going to use a black van when a brown UPS van, a white Amazon van, or a yellow DHL van will do very nicely???

        1. My-Handle Silver badge

          Re: black van

          There's a risk you'll come out to them and ask if you can have your parcel now, please. Or to tell them that half way up a tree is not an appropriate safe location for a parcel.

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: black van @Snake

          Don't talk daft. One of those parked for longer than it takes to throw a parcel down the path would be really, really unusual.

          The real ones have a delivery schedule to keep!

    3. NXM

      Re: This is mildly terrifying

      It's the TV detector van which I look forward to welcoming bearing in mind ...

      a) the lack of tv

      b) the regular vaguely legal threats about not having a license

      c) my apparently having to tell them, every year, that no license is required. They can stuff that.

      And yes, I know detector vans are fake anyway.

      1. GlenP Silver badge

        Re: This is mildly terrifying

        And yes, I know detector vans are fake anyway

        Allegedly they were real, however the "detection" was the operators looking for houses with no licence that had a TV aerial.

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: This is mildly terrifying

          I remember, ages ago, when there were adverts on TV telling people get their licences, the 'scene' was inside a TV Detector Van, and the commentary was:

          'It is in the downstairs front room. It's on, and they're watching 'Columbo'."

          It was aired during the weekly episode of said detective series, and we always enjoyed it. Except when we were actually watching 'Callan'.*

          So the TV detector vans were real and did work, based on the fact that everyone had CRT televisions in those days and their EM radiation was easy to pick up.

          *Note to USAfolk, 'Callan' was a UK TV series featuring an MI5 hit man, who went around catching and or killing 'enemy agents'. Played by Edward Woodward, very cynical and the antithesis** of James Bond.

          **I've always wanted to use that word.

          1. heyrick Silver badge

            Re: This is mildly terrifying

            I think it's the tuning frequency they used to pick up (side effect of how superheterodyne works), in order to tell what channel you were watching. That, plus just looking in the window.

            It became a lot harder to use RF detection when households started having multiple televisions and other devices (computers, monitors, printers, satellite receivers, switch mode power supplies...) all throwing out lots of RF interference.

            1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

              Re: This is mildly terrifying

              The 10.7MHz mixer frequency for the IF... my godfather, who got me started in this whole electronics/computing lark, took the trouble to build a TRF tv receiver, just to annoy the detector operators. Tiny little circular green screen as I recall, ex a radar receiver display.

          2. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

            Re: This is mildly terrifying

            "So the TV detector vans were real and did work, based on the fact that everyone had CRT televisions in those days and their EM radiation was easy to pick up."

            It wasn't the CRT that was doing it, but the analogue radio tuner that would leak a carrier wave back out the antenna at whatever frequency the TV was tuned to. In the days of analogue telly each channel was on its own carrier, so looking up the table of frequencies it was easy to figure out what channel the TV was tuned to and with a copy of the radio times, know what they were watching.

            These days, with digital tv, the signal demodulation is probably all done in software. There'll be an analogue front end but I bet it's just downmixing into a baseband that the software tuner can then work with. It's also going to be lower power in the mixer, so less radiation will leak back out.

          3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
            Alert

            Re: This is mildly terrifying

            *Note to USAfolk... from Louisiana

            James Bond is...

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI0Bknh65mA

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6P7GT0E-5dU

          4. EricB123

            Re: This is mildly terrifying

            "Note to USAfolk, 'Callan' was a UK TV series featuring an MI5 hit man,"

            Thanks so much for thinking of us non-Brit readers. A rare courtesy from the Continent. Can I call Britian "the Continent" these days?

            1. Cederic Silver badge

              Re: This is mildly terrifying

              Never could.

              "Fog in the Channel. Continent cut off."

            2. Eclectic Man Silver badge

              Re: This is mildly terrifying

              I don't see why not. After all, in both the Shetlands and the Orkney Islands, the largest island is officially called 'The Mainland'.

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mainland,_Orkney

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mainland,_Shetland

              However, some of us Brits are a bit big-headed, so talking of us as 'the Continent' might encourage hubris.

        2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

          Re: This is mildly terrifying

          you forgot to add

          that had a TV aerial that was actually connected to a TV. If it was a VHF aerial it might be connected to a Radio for which no Licence is needed.

        3. vogon00

          Re: This is mildly terrifying

          Yep, they were real. Many moons ago, when I was in short trousers mandated by parents, not me, I was shoved/invited into the back of one of these vans to shut me up (I was fascinated by things like that even then).

          I don't remember too much, but I do remember the bloke in the back of the van explaining how they could detect which channel you were watching and work out if your were watching a B&W or Colour* receiver by the RF stage's IF-related (Intermediate Frequency) signal that radiated back out of your antenna., albeit at very, very low levels. IIRC there was a huge, steerable and very directional antenna on the top of the van so they could both tell and prove which antenna they were pointing it at.

          I was in awe of the stuff in the back of that van - it was like sci-fi in the back of a van at that age.

          * There used to be two licences - the cheaper one entitled you to watch in 'Black and White', and with the more expensive one you were allowed to watch in Colour. Amazingly, a B&W Licence is still a thing!

          1. EricB123

            Re: This is mildly terrifying

            Sort of like having to pay the phone company an extra $1 a month for a phone that was any color other than black.

        4. martinusher Silver badge

          Re: This is mildly terrifying

          A start but old TVs were major R/F emitters. The horizontal scan amplifier was a major source of radiated energy, easy to spot a mile off, and if you wanted to get cute -- as others have pointed out -- the TV tuner's local oscillator was also handy to pin point which channel you were on.

          But that was 'then'. Once TV's started using transistors and organizations like the FCC started taking notice of the interference that things generated equipment quieted down a lot. So it was goodbye to a cheap 'n cheerful spectrum analyzer and simple directional antenna as a way of finding operating TVs. . Then analog TV died, no more scans, just data. More recently the TV tuner turned into a software defined radio thingy (mix a slice of spectrum to baseband then digitize it to generate in phase and quadrature data strams, hit the data with software and you've to a radio receiver. Magic!)

          (Incidentally, very early TVs did use TRF -- tuned radio frequency -- receivers. They were also double sideband. Its the way the technology evolved. Interesting, in a sort of 'isn't that steam engine a fantastic piece of engineering' sense.)

        5. Fr. Ted Crilly

          Re: This is mildly terrifying

          Right Bleeding Bastard : Bastard's the name. But you can call me Right Bleeding, all my friends do- or well, *did*.

          M : Why, what happened?

          Right Bleeding Bastard : I killed him.

          Right Bleeding Bastard : Right, where's this telly. Ah-hah! So you do have it! You little runt! The old trick, eh? Eat the telly before I get a chance to nick you!

          V: It's a toaster.

          Right Bleeding Bastard : It's a telly you yobbo. Give it back I want to Nick ya!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This is mildly terrifying

        But do you remember the software piracy detector van:

        https://www.theregister.com/2000/11/08/bsa_deploys_imaginary_pirate_software/

      3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: This is mildly terrifying @NXM

        You know that using a computer or tablet to receive TV broadcast over the Internet still needs a TV license, don't you?

        The definition of "broadcast" in this context means watched or recorded using any medium, at the same time as it was being transmitted over the air (or, in fact, streamed on a catch-up service before the transmission over the air has completed).

        So, if you watch a football match via, say, one of the live TV channels of Now (TV), at the same time as it is available over the air or by satellite, then you need a TV license. And if you use BBC iPlayer, then you definitely need a TV license.

        Is this fair, probably not, but the viewers don't make the rules. Love it or hate it, in order to operate as it does, free of (most) government and commercial pressures, the BBC (and some other public broadcasting obligations) have to be paid for.

  3. tip pc Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Encryption everywhere, 1 time passcodes for the paranoid!

    The answer is to encrypt everything everywhere.

    Just because you have a wired connection is no excuse not to encrypt.

    It best to think of the wire in a wired connection as a way to get the radio signal to the other end with higher signal quality enabling faster speeds.

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: Encryption everywhere, 1 time passcodes for the paranoid!

      "Just because you have a wired connection is no excuse not to encrypt."

      Unfortunately, as you have to use data, it has to be present in clear prior to encryption and after decryption. The kit that processes it in clear also radiates.

      The ultimate answer is to shield your systems rooms a la TEMPEST and ensure that only encrypted data passes across the shield. Then the goof at the other end of the communication can leak it for you.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Encryption everywhere, 1 time passcodes for the paranoid!

        We are planning on building a new home in a year or two, and I'm starting to consider wrapping the whole thing in grounded wire mesh (under the siding). Who needs a tin-foil hat when you have a tin-foil house.

        I wonder if the lack of an RF signature would be suspicious in itself?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Encryption everywhere, 1 time passcodes for the paranoid!

          "... starting to consider wrapping the whole thing in grounded wire mesh (under the siding)"

          Metal siding has been around for a while. Prior to that we had stucco wall finish with the accompanying metal lath beneath.

          1. cdegroot

            Re: Encryption everywhere, 1 time passcodes for the paranoid!

            I heard that people who sell WiFi extenders just _love_ these old walls. Signals are apparently limited to just one room.

        2. Mike 137 Silver badge

          Screening your house

          "...consider wrapping the whole thing in grounded wire mesh

          You'll need to establish the frequency bands of interest and make sure your mesh has appropriately sized holes. Given that Ethernet typically works at a fundamental frequency of 125 MHz and computer clocks run at low GHz, to account for sufficient harmonics you'll need a pretty fine mesh, and that will come very expensive. Equally, you'll need EMI seals on every door and window frame, as the leakage-critical dimension for an aperture in a screen is its length. That will come even more expensive and need regular maintenance, which will be still more expensive.

        3. Graham Dawson Silver badge

          Re: Encryption everywhere, 1 time passcodes for the paranoid!

          From experience, there is a particular sort of thermal foil insulation (Airtec and Thermawrap are the brands I'm aware of) that performs amazingly well as a faraday cage. My parents insulated their house house with it a few years back, now nobody can get a phone signal inside the place unless they stand right next to the largest window. It's really quite impressive how efficient it is.

        4. David Nash

          Re: Encryption everywhere, 1 time passcodes for the paranoid!

          Depends if you expect your mobile phone to work inside. Certainly more and more it's becoming the norm.

      2. EricB123

        Re: Encryption everywhere, 1 time passcodes for the paranoid!

        I saw a tempest PC back in the day. It was housed in a PC AT box, super heavy, super expensive and was quite a bit slower than the RF riadiating version.

    2. DS999 Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Encryption everywhere, 1 time passcodes for the paranoid!

      Easier to just buying shielded ethernet cables if you're worried about it, avoid wifi/bluetooth, and use a grounded metal case for your PC.

      Still leaves the matter of your monitor, maybe you should build a metal shielded office without windows to use your computer?

  4. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Hardly surprising...

    ...and yet another example of why the basic principle of security is to assume your messages are intercepted. This is what encryption is for.

    Just like you can't trust all the machines on the route across the internet between you, and, say, the web server for your bank, so you use HTTPS.

    Eavesdroppers can fill their bit-buckets to their hearts' content, but without those private keys, all they can usefully collect is metadata.

    Of course, metadata can give away secrets, so there's that...

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Hardly surprising...

      And once they have that data, all they have to do is find a way to get the keys. Think about the data center in Utah...

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Hardly surprising...

        ...and once they have all those encrypted transmissions, all they have to do is store them until they can crack them, to find out which one was the one they were interested in? I wonder if CERN have any spare capacity in their ultra-high bandwidth storage?

        If you have something that is encrypted, and you know there is something of interest in there, it might be worth spending the time trying to crack it using a lot of computing power. It may take you months, or even years to do so.

        If you have a stream of data that might contain something of interest, you aren't going to throw away those resources to decrypt every part of it "on the off chance", unless the encryption mechanism is so broken that it's trivial to do so (hint: it's not). If you're collecting data in bulk (and if you are, where are you going to store it?), you're not going to be able to decrypt it at anywhere near the rate at which you collect it. Even for the most paranoid-minded, the sums don't add up. I'd go so far as to say that the basic laws of thermodynamics are probably against you on this one.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Hardly surprising...

          "...and once they have all those encrypted transmissions, all they have to do is store them until they can crack them, to find out which one was the one they were interested in? I wonder if CERN have any spare capacity in their ultra-high bandwidth storage?"

          Who do you think developed the bandwidth that CERN uses today, hmm?

          "If you have something that is encrypted, and you know there is something of interest in there, it might be worth spending the time trying to crack it using a lot of computing power. It may take you months, or even years to do so."

          It didn't take them all that long to crack an iPhone they were interested in. Sovereign governments have a lot more resources than they let on.

          "If you have a stream of data that might contain something of interest, you aren't going to throw away those resources to decrypt every part of it "on the off chance", unless the encryption mechanism is so broken that it's trivial to do so (hint: it's not). If you're collecting data in bulk (and if you are, where are you going to store it?), you're not going to be able to decrypt it at anywhere near the rate at which you collect it. Even for the most paranoid-minded, the sums don't add up. I'd go so far as to say that the basic laws of thermodynamics are probably against you on this one."

          Quantum computing says hello. There's probably work on one under the data center in Utah that's acting as a cover for the black-project working quantum computer that no one can even reveal exists (and we KNOW black projects are out there).

  5. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge
    Coat

    If you have nothing to hide...

    You're living in a nudist colony.

    That's not an overcoat, it's a cloak of deception ->

    1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
      Meh

      Re: If you have nothing to hide...

      You can't live in them these days. Well, only for eleven months of the year anyway. Otherwise you'd have to pay council tax, and that would mess everyone up.

      Source: used to work for a council. Sorry to disappoint.

  6. sreynolds

    If you have nothing to hide....

    The argument that if you have nothing to hide is a load of bollocks. At least I see there an opportunity to misinform. Just like the Stasi with their microphones in the roofs and bathrooms, there is ample opportunity to manipulate.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: If you have nothing to hide....

      The better STASI analogy is surely that time* when they steamed open everyone's post.

      *"that time" being approximately 1953-1989

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: If you have nothing to hide....

      Stasi with their microphones

      The Stasi would probably have wet themselves if they saw modern deepfakes.

  7. ThatOne Silver badge
    Megaphone

    "Because we can"? No!

    > You can scramble the signal, you can minimise it, you can try to shield it, but it's there and it can be picked up if you try hard enough

    Which is why, instead of promising some useless technical safeguards, we (humanity) should simply say that no, we won't try to spy needlessly on other people, period.

    It's not that hard, after all our society has managed to accept that hiding cameras in ladies' toilets was bad, so I think they should be able to eventually understand that spying on other peoples' lives without cause or reason is about the same. Yes, the logic is similar: "Everybody knows women have those lady parts, so what's the point in hiding them?" is not different to "If they have nothing to hide they have nothing to fear": In both cases it willingly ignores the victim's sense of modesty and decency.

    So, crack down on the various Dr. Strangeloves' feeling of entitlement (and their annoying "because we can" argument) and ban the oncoming general voyeurism before it becomes the norm.

    (steps from soapbox)

    1. Mike 16 Silver badge

      Re: "Because we can"? No!

      "If the president does it, it's not illegal". R. M. Nixon

      'nuff said?

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: "Because we can"? No!

        Will we soon add 'Donald J Trump' to that list of presidents who think that they can get away with everything while in Office? Bill Clinton is alongside Nixon on the list.

    2. nijam Silver badge

      Re: "Because we can"? No!

      > we (humanity) should simply say that no, we won't try to spy needlessly on other people

      Hilarious.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Because we can"? No!

      "So, crack down on the various Dr. Strangeloves' feeling of entitlement (and their annoying "because we can" argument) and ban the oncoming general voyeurism before it becomes the norm."

      That's all right for YOUR society, but what if the one next door doesn't give a damn AND is willing to go MAD to rule...?

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: "Because we can"? No!

        > That's all right for YOUR society, but what if the one next door doesn't give a damn AND is willing to go MAD to rule...?

        Yes, what about that? It's like asking "what about if the guy next door doesn't give a damn and is willing to rape and murder". So, what do you do? Go on a rape & murder spree yourself? I honestly don't think it's the best solution.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: "Because we can"? No!

          But what if it's the ONLY solution? What if does really boil down to "you or him"? And I'm not speaking hypothetically, either. A lot of right-wing extremists honestly and truly think the same way, like a bunch of powder kegs waiting for a match.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: "Because we can"? No!

            Wait, what exactly are you advocating here? What would be "the only solution"?

            If it's still about privacy, your example is out of topic: I really don't think Google/Facebook snooping will prevent any extremists from getting nasty.

            There is a difference between government and commercial spying. You can't prevent the police and the military from spying anyway (if only because you have no leverage against what is rightly called "armed forces"...). On the other hand there is no serious excuse for commercial spying, the hoovering up of personal information to resell. Except greed and arrogance of course, and it's the exact same type of greed and arrogance which led to selling whole people: The utter disrespect for everybody else's life as long as you can make a quick buck. It's very tempting, after all slavery made huge fortunes, and compiling PI for marketing purposes is about to. Ask Facebook and Google.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: "Because we can"? No!

              "There is a difference between government and commercial spying."

              Is there? Or have government and big-big-business have become so buddy-buddy that the distinction has become too blurry?

              1. ThatOne Silver badge

                Re: "Because we can"? No!

                > Is there?

                There is, because they are not after the same things. Governments just want to know if you don't have dissenting or criminal ideas, whereas businesses want to know all the ideas you have, so they can sell them to whoever might be interested in knowing about them.

                Also, governments will usually leave you alone if you aren't on their naughty list, whereas businesses will always insist on spamming you silly over every medium available.

                1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                  Re: "Because we can"? No!

                  You're wrong. Governments want all the dirt on you, too, for the whole "six lines" business. Private companies provide the means without the direct outlay plus a degree of separation for plausible deniability purposes.

                  Governments want control, too, and one of the best ways to do that is to give everyone a Sword of Damocles.

                  1. ThatOne Silver badge

                    Re: "Because we can"? No!

                    > Governments want all the dirt on you, too, for the whole "six lines" business

                    I'm not convinced. Most if not all governments aren't coordinated enough to be able to process that huge a stream of information. All they can manage to do is fish for suspicious keywords, and then focus on those who used them.

                    The problem (for both) is processing the information: See the brilliant results of "smart advertising", where you get suggestions for stuff you've just bought (which might work for consumables, but definitely not for household appliances or cars!)... I'm sure the government doesn't have much better processing capacities. Yes, of course they have a number of crack analysts, but they definitely won't waste them on trivial and most likely pointless background noise, they will set them on high value targets/tasks.

                    So, on one side we have a keyword-powered fishing for potential evildoers, on the other we have a keyword-powered suggestion engine without context and logic. Just say "walk the dog" instead of "assassinate" and you're perfectly safe from the first, but you'll still get spammed with dog food ads from the second.

                    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                      Re: "Because we can"? No!

                      "The problem (for both) is processing the information: See the brilliant results of "smart advertising", where you get suggestions for stuff you've just bought (which might work for consumables, but definitely not for household appliances or cars!)... I'm sure the government doesn't have much better processing capacities. Yes, of course they have a number of crack analysts, but they definitely won't waste them on trivial and most likely pointless background noise, they will set them on high value targets/tasks."

                      You've never been to the data center in Utah, have you? And there's no telling what may be under it, either. It would be the perfect place for a black-project working quantum computer.

                      1. ThatOne Silver badge

                        Re: "Because we can"? No!

                        > It would be the perfect place for a black-project working quantum computer

                        It might, still, the universal law of "effort vs. reward" makes your six lines scenario nothing more than a quip and an empty threat. Cardinal Richelieu was chief minister of Louis XIII of France. Didn't this extremely important man have more important things to do than collecting six lines from some forlorn shepherd, just in case he needed to hang him?

                        This hasn't changed today: Please calculate the cost in cutting edge computers, top shelf scientists and computer experts, just to spot that John Doe, 40, is actually living in his mom's basement and roams the internet as a 18-year old overly busty blonde named "Kitty"... What would the government have gained? Nothing at all, it's totally useless. If they are to spend any money on spying, they'd rather focus on the people they really fear, that is their political adversaries. Candidates, senators, it's on those you would focus your quantum computers' efforts, not on useless pathetic John Doe.

                        On the other hand, commercial ventures can make money out of every single word you utter, and using a cheap second hand computer. One single word is enough, you don't need a second, just take the first one and sell it! So, somebody who made a search for "kidney beans" (due to a discussion in another thread), is suddenly flooded with ads for transplant centers and donor lists... Ka-ching! Profit!

                        That's the big difference. Since commercial ventures sell anything they get their hands upon, with no effort or processing required or done, it's very lucrative for them to keep spying. On the other hand, governments would need to collect a huge lot of data and process it before something potentially vaguely interesting might appear. It's simply not worth their while (and money) to do anything more than a keyword check on the Great Unwashed. Evil overlord motivations notwithstanding, people always go the path of least effort.

                        1. Charles 9 Silver badge
                          Mushroom

                          Re: "Because we can"? No!

                          The top-shelf stuff, yes, but the initial screening can be automated much as how private companies do. Low-level coercion ban be similarly automated (little annoyances, scare tactics, and so on). Cost isn't an issue anyway because it's part of the Defense budget: taxpayers willingly pay for their Own surveillance. Complaints are countered with hints of another 9/11. Fear and anger trump reason.

                          As for enemies, gauge the sentiment around the country. It's everyone that isn't them, full stop. In fact, big government and big business are almost certainly buddy-buddy: assistance and plausible deniability in exchange for leniency and favors.

                          Perhaps, in the worst case, they may have reached the point of being able to go, "Oh well, if that's the way you want it..."

                          1. ThatOne Silver badge

                            Re: "Because we can"? No!

                            > the initial screening can be automated much as how private companies do

                            You're willingly ignoring the fundamental difference between being able to use anything you find, and having to find/construe among a list of very specific and situation-dependent cases. Example: Do you have a handle on somebody discussing little children's intimate parts? Well, not if (s)he is a pediatrician... Screening for what could possibly fit a list of potential criminal offenses is non-trivial compared to simply picking a keyword, any keyword. Pronounce: "Expensive".

                            .

                            > Cost isn't an issue anyway because it's part of the Defense budget

                            Here too I disagree. The military budget is mostly there to feed the top officers' egos. A captain needs his ship, a colonel needs his tanks, a group captain his planes, and they all need to be modern and shiny, more modern and more shiny than those of the other captains/colonels/group captains he's competing with.

                            Wasting money for the surveillance of your own population means having less shiny toys, risk being a captain without a ship (!), and what for? As you said yourself, we know the enemies, it's everyone who isn't us, or who doesn't agree with us.

                            While I agree the big businesses aren't benevolent, the government is too selfish to be really dangerous, and both are too uncoordinated to efficiently work together, given their goals are different: It's money and market share for business, it's influence for the politicians. (Not that they don't like money, but influence yields money anyway.)

                            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                              Re: "Because we can"? No!

                              And you're willfully ignoring the fact the "good, fast, cheap" triangle for this has been shrinking at an accelerating rate. Expensive? Try "getting cheaper by the day."

                              "Here too I disagree. The military budget is mostly there to feed the top officers' egos."

                              Incorrect. I've lived in the Navy. Salaries are dictated up top by rank. Besides, no one wants to be on the front lines if they can avoid it. The defense budget is one of the biggest pig troughs in the country because NO ONE wants to look weak, especially after 9/11. Contractors will look for any excuse to get something "defense" approved to get some of that dish, and cybersecurity is the hot topic right now. Remember, the Utah data center already exists.

                              As for public/private cooperation, what you see is only a facade and only in those areas where they're reluctant to cooperate. You wanna see them at their best? Look at the financial industries...

                              1. ThatOne Silver badge

                                Re: "Because we can"? No!

                                > Expensive? Try "getting cheaper by the day."

                                "Cheaper" does not mean "cheap enough". First you have the quantity of factors, the amount of borderline cases and the fact law is often quite vague: A simple decision tree can't handle this. Second, we're talking about processing the whole population, which is huge: Computing in real time what 300+ million suspects might be planning and thinking would require a huge computer system, not to mention the real AI capable of not flooding the database with false positives and sending the government repeatedly on expensive wild goose chases.

                                .

                                > Salaries are dictated up top by rank.

                                That's irrelevant, I'm not talking about salaries, I'm talking about prestige. The one you get when you get to command the latest and most shiny piece of technology, as opposed to being underfunded and shunted into a siding. The "don't look weak" rhetoric is all about buying ever more modern equipment, create more structures where you can be the CO or XO in, not to mention the old "a boss' importance depends on how many people he commands". The "front lines" part is irrelevant too, it's not the generals who die on the battlefield.

                                .

                                > Look at the financial industries...

                                That's indeed a mutual interest collaboration, albeit a very cheap one. The banks want more power (and profit) and the government wants more control over what the Great Unwashed does/can do, so the governments make the banks compulsory, and in exchange the banks keep their governments informed. It doesn't cost anything to either of them, and it helps them both a lot.

                                .

                                Anyway, while I've enjoyed it, I honestly don't think this discussion is going anywhere. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this point. It's been a pleasure nevertheless.

  8. hostman

    "That modern myth where AI learns to improve itself in an exponential feedback loop towards evil godhood ain't gonna happen"

    I've recently read the book "Novacene" by James Locklock, some interesting points raised in the book somewhat agree with this point. However an emerging "cyborg" species, as Lovelock describes it in the book, will still rapidly supersede our abilities and likely view us as we view plants or pets. Within the bounds of physics they will be "thinking" at a speed at least 10,000x faster than our own abilities. They will also evolve exceedingly quickly due to self selection, unlike our biological selection processes which have taken millions/billions of years to reach our present state.

    An example of this is how long it takes a signal to travel along our nervous system. As quoted in the book the signals in our nervous system take 1 millisecond to travel 30 cm. A future cyborg species will not be bound by this same limitation. An example is copper, signal time is 1 nanosecond for 30cm. 1 million x faster than our ability to transmit a signal within our bodies.

    They will still be bound by air resistance though while travelling within earth. Or perhaps they will strive to replace all biological life on earth with machine life and create an atmosphere less dense.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Lovelock writes an engaging book, but some of his ideas are a bit whacky. "Gaia Theory" basically postulates that the entire planet is conscious.

      Let's take, for example, the assertion, "They will also evolve exceedingly quickly due to self selection". Evolution, as any fule kno, is directionless, and, most importantly, the selection pressures are external (when you're filling an evolutionary niche, it's the niche that dictates what shape you need to be to fill it). "Self-selection" is meaningless in the context of adaptive evolution, as you have basically pre-specified the shape of the niche, without any regard to what the rest of the universe is doing. As for "evolving exceedingly quickly", it's worth noting that the organisms with the shortest life cycle evolve the quickest, as evolution is driven by mutation, which occurs, or is manifested, during reproduction. If we are worried about things that evolve fast enslaving humanity, I, for one, welcome our new bacterial and fungal overlords.

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        "Gaia Theory" basically postulates that the entire planet is conscious

        Actually, Lovelock's original Gaia theory doesn't. That's emerged as a result of numerous misunderstandings by others. The original theory was based on observation that many phenomena on earth such as atmospheric composition are not in entropic baseline states, and therefore may be maintained in metastability by feedback systems. It's not his fault if the new earthers have come along afterwards and muddied the waters of what was originally a matter of physics.

        However I'm not at all sure he's an equivalent expert on artificial intelligence. There's always a danger that once one is a recognised expert in A, people ask one for opinions on B, C, ... Z as well, simply becuase one is known as an 'expert'. Such opinions, although probably no better than those of the 'man in the Clapham omnibus' are deemed authoritative.

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: "Gaia Theory" basically postulates that the entire planet is conscious

          To be fair, I was a first year undergraduate when I read that particular book, and that was *mumblemumble* years ago.

          My recall isn't perfect from that far back, but I think the general gist of it was, that complex systems are chaotic in nature, and whilst may reach apparently stable configurations, kept in check largely by negative feedback loops, small perturbations can have large effects, due to positive feedback loops. Those things are hardly revelatory, and have been known about mathematically for a fair time; Lorenz was doing work on this sort of thing in the '60s.

          Lovelock's "big idea" was that the Earth is a big sack full of interconnected systems, so could be looked at as a whole, of lots of individual feedbacks creating metastable configurations. Again, this might be revelatory to "steady-state" believers, but they're the same lot who didn't accept continental drift, or mass extinctions.

          To anyone who thinks about it, it's obvious that there is no such thing as a system in isolation, and, to some degree, everything has some impact on everything else. The wave-function for every single particle in the universe is unbounded, after all. There's some miniscule probability that one of "your" electrons is located in Alpha-Centauri right now. Admittedly, the number of zeroes between the decimal point and the other digits in that probability would probably stretch just as far.

          Considering the Earth as a "meta-system" in this way is itself somewhat limited in its scope. The entire observable universe is pretty much one open system, right up to the point where you start considering light cones and all that stuff that Stephen Hawking made his money from writing popular science books about. (You have read that copy of A Brief History of Time that is gathering dust on your bookshelf, right?)

          Lovelock's stuff is good to get you thinking about interconnectedness of systems. Of course, in practice most things are not connected in a meaningful, predictable, or significant way. Putting a slice of bread into your toaster won't cause your car's engine to start, unless you've taken some concrete measures to make that happen, of course. Man-made systems do tend to either be closed for all practical purposes, or we treat the external effects as externalities (i.e. we don't worry about them).

          Of course, externalities have effects - when designing something that runs off an internal combustion engine, you'll be far more interested in how that engine works, how power is transferred, efficiency, torque, and all those sorts of things, than you will be about what happens to the exhaust gases. They do, however, have a small effect in the wider atmospheric system, and those effects accumulate, hence climate change. Lovelock was right that we should consider whole systems in this way, and not just the bits we care about.

          I think he's probably talking bollocks about robots taking over though.

          1. nijam Silver badge

            Re: "Gaia Theory" basically postulates that the entire planet is conscious

            > Putting a slice of bread into your toaster won't cause your car's engine to start

            Depends how good your car's self-driving AI is, and what the standard deviation of the interval (between switching on the toaster and getting into the car) is.

            1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
              Joke

              Re: "Gaia Theory" basically postulates that the entire planet is conscious

              but with the right type of car you can put a slice of bread into the car and end up with toast

              https://nypost.com/2021/05/04/hyundai-recalling-390000-cars-over-fire-risk/*

              [*] Other makes of flammable car are available

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The unselected will inherit ...

        Good points - but ...

        Couldn't you call the within-species formalized competition between individual vying for mating rights a kind of self-selection? For example spiders and birds performing exotic mating dances or little puffer fish creating incredibly intricate sand castles on the ocean floor to attract mates.

        As for humans, now being predator #1, aren't we also by default undergoing self-selection? The ability to climb to the top of the dogpile and prevent others from doing so, or maybe to build the best panopticon and occupy the pole position, is a kind of self-selection, isn't it?

        I'm not saying it's always a worthy, interesting, or long-term useful for species survival self-selection, but it does seem like a form of self selection.

      3. the Jim bloke Silver badge
        Alien

        Self-selection" is meaningless in the context of adaptive evolution, as you have basically pre-specified the shape of the niche, without any regard to what the rest of the universe is doing

        .. imagine if the 'white supremacists' achieved their aryan ideal - then found they didnt have an ozone layer...

        The fast breeding/evolving lifeforms probably wont enslave humanity*, but they do have the best chance of surviving them.

        *I mean, why would they even keep us around?

    2. Mike 16 Silver badge

      1 foot per nanosecond?

      That's the "guaranteed not to exceed" speed of light in free space. In copper, especially in the presence of anything else, "Your mileage may vary, and will probably be lower".

      -A. Pedant

  9. TRT Silver badge

    I've often mulled over...

    the possibility of a sonic lens for converging laser beams at a focal point or sweeping a number of them in some kind of complex fractal pattern in order to get ultra bright, ultra large, near structureless colour video display.

  10. Spoobistle
    Coat

    Noise Floor

    I don't think we need to worry unduly about this. The electromagnetic smog from cheap USB chargers, wireless devices, low energy bulbs, your neighbour's power-line ethernet etc is already bad enough to obliterate most of the radio spectrum and when everybody is converted to solar power installations, electric car charging and everything formerly gas powered is on green electricity it can only get worse! It's a bit like the spy movies where the agent turns on a tap or goes in the shower to defeat the bugging devices...

    Mine's the one with the tin-foil lining, of course.

  11. msobkow Silver badge

    While technically true, it really is going to do little more than feed the terrified and paranoid minds of the conspiracy crowd.

    In the long run (probably hundreds of years at this pace), mankind will either have abandoned money-based systems and become a society managed for everyone's benefit instead of that of the most greedy and rapacious among us, or we'll have nuked ourselves into oblivion as the greedy fought over the last 5% that the masses were supposed to live on.

    At that point, it really becomes an issue of "what are you protecting?" Without personal greed to satisfy, most people don't have all that much that they worry about protecting. It is the concept of "me and mine" that makes other people's information "interesting" to the criminals and greedy that we protect it from.

  12. Omidia

    I guess Homomorphic encryption would be a solution. But it seems like black magic to me!

  13. steelpillow Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Really?

    Sorry, no. This is a pile of bollocks. The EM home truths might be right on the mark (you even nicked my catchphrase), but we have laws against this sort of thing. GCHQ got slapped on the wrist when it overreached itself. Google, Facebook and chums are beginning to be similarly reined in. Just you try to architect a mass surveillance opportunity which does not fall foul of the GDPR, AI or no AI. Even if you could, we'd very quickly see GDPR v2. It's not going to happen.

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: Really?

      As for feeding off it's own nose-cancellation signals, they are buried too deep in the peripheral hardware - an AI brain will no more be able to do that than our own consciousnesses can access the very similar stuff going on in our own sensory processing.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      GDPR is our salvation? Really?

      @steelpillow

      *

      ClearViewAI..........scraped ten billion images without any permission at all.....

      *

      .....then they sold the AI application to police forces and who-knows-who-else............

      *

      ...and that's before we get to bad actors exfiltrating data ....for example, who know where the Equifax data has ended up?

      *

      GDPR is (still) a joke!

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: GDPR is our salvation? Really?

        "GDPR is (still) a joke!"

        It's only a joke (and not a very funny one) in that it isn't complied with and isn't enforced. The next joke in line is that the UK govt. is trying to dismantle it because complying with it has been considered inconvenient in that it apparently inhibits 'growth' and 'innovation'.

        The real joke is that, provided you apply intelligence and good will, complying with the GDPR is not really hard. Sadly both intelligence and good will are in short supply.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: GDPR is our salvation? Really?

          "It's only a joke (and not a very funny one) in that it isn't complied with and isn't enforced."

          That's exactly the point. It's not being enforced and likely can't be enforced due to hostile sovereignty and the tenuous state of international politics. Maybe it's far-fetched to think that trying to enforce a 10-billion-Euro fine on Facebook will trigger World War III, but given the state of things today, something of that vein cannot be ruled out. Well, either that or Gibson's "Sprawl" solution of the companies escaping prosecution by declaring themselves sovereign (and not doing it now simply because the conditions aren't right...YET).

    3. nijam Silver badge

      Re: Really?

      > we have laws against this sort of thing. GCHQ got slapped on the wrist when it overreached itself.

      Their hand wasn't actually cut off, thouhjt, was it? And did it have any actual effect on their behaviour?

      Not to mention the "nation-state bogeyman of the week".

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Various Comments.....

    1. John Cleese. He was almost correct with his "Cat Detector Van".....actually a "CAT5 Detector Van". Close, but no cigar!

    2. Encryption. The public have been misinformed (over and over again) on this topic.

    2.1 Misinformation by Service Providers. (see FB, Proton, Telegram, etc). The public are told to trust these people because the service is "end-to-end" encrypted. We have also been told that Cisco equipment has "no backdoors". It seems prudent to me to misbelieve ANY service provider claim about "security"!

    2.2 Misinformation by Politicians. The public are told not to trust public security to service providers (see item #2.1). The politicians tell everyone who will listen that public safety is at risk from various bad actors UNLESS the government gets "backdoors" into any and all "end-to-end" encryption. This is misdirection in two ways. A) People like the NSA and GCHQ ALREADY have various "backdoors" -- except that they are unknown to the public. B) If the politicians get the extended access which they crave, not only will personal privacy become increasingly impossible, but the very bad actors the politicians wish to monitor -- those bad actors will use the very same tools to do substantial harm.

    3. Private Encryption. So....if a private citizen were to use private encryption BEFORE sensitive messaging enters ANY public channel, the whole farrago about "encryption" (see item #2) would be moot.......the snoops would use their "backdoor".....and just find more (unknown) encryption. Citizens need to take personal responsibility for personal privacy and personal security -- at least to the extent that they can -- and not subcontract a personal problem to Service Providers or to Politicians....neither can be trusted!!!!

    1. nijam Silver badge

      Re: Various Comments.....

      > ... .if a private citizen were to use private encryption BEFORE sensitive messaging enters ANY public channel ...

      ...it would be irrefutable proof of guilt.

      Is private encryption still illegal in France?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Various Comments.....

        @nijam

        .......so.......banks, credit card companies, the military, and so on......all using "encryption before messaging"................and all proving that they are guilty of something? Please explain!!

        *

        Oh....and what happened to "assumed innocent"? You must be a HUGE fan of the STASI!!!

        1. the Jim bloke Silver badge
          Black Helicopters

          Re: Various Comments.....

          ..so.......banks, credit card companies, the military, and so on......all using "encryption before messaging"................and all proving that they are guilty of something?

          yes.

          we all know this.

          The benefit to the various institutions is that we dont know what, exactly, they are guilty of, so under the laws of the land, they are free to continue.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are only four

    The article claims: "Physics, man. It's how the electromagnetic or EM quantum field works, one of the five basic forces of the cosmos (the other four being gravity, strong atomic, weak atomic, and stupidity, since you ask)."

    But that's wrong. There are only four. I've just been reading David Deutsch and he explains that there's no such thing as gravity. When you hold your arm straight out and eventually get an ache in it, that's because you're applying a force to accelerate the arm away from the geodesic of spacetime wherever you are, because the geodesic 'curves' near a big mass. There is only your muscular force on the arm, there's no gravity force.

    Sounds batshit, but his explanation of how the relatavistic-quantum-multiverse explains how electrons behave has me convinced.

    So there are just four basic forces - electromagnetic, strong and weak atomic, and stupidity.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: There are only four

      Mr Deutsch is playing silly games with words. By the principle of equivalence (duck typing for physicists) if its effects are indistinguishable from a force, then the fact that your current theory explains it with geodesics is not important; it is a force.

      (Actually, I'm not even sure that Lagrangian mechanics uses the concept of force, so maybe we're just down to one: stupidity.)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There are only four

      Well, the proper particle physicist answer to this is....six, seven, or fourteen fundamental physical forces, it depends how you define them. Plus stupidity of course

      First off, every force is associated with a boson carrier particle, which means it has integer spin rather than half-integer. This has to be true to conserve angular momentum. So basically we can list the forces by listing the bosons.

      While the geodesic explanation of gravity is *true*, it is also true that gravity is associated with a boson force-carrier, the graviton, which is boson spin 2. That has unusual mathematical consequences, and there are reasons why they would (almost) impossible to observe, they do definitely exist. So gravity is a force, Deutsch would be wrong if he says it isn't, and I suspect he doesn't say exactly that if you read really, really carefully.

      Then there's electromagnetism, mediated by photon. The photon is uncharged and massless, which defines all the detailed physics of electromagnetism.

      The weak force. Is *two* forces, which only happen to be lumped together by historical accident of when and how they were discovered. There's the *charged current* force, carried by W+/W- boson. And the *neutral current* force, carried by the Z0 boson. These forces even act on different particles, and have different effects - for example, uncharged particles don't feel the "charged current" force.

      You need to know that the two weak forces have exactly the same relationship to each other as to electromagnetism. "Under the hood" these W,Z and photon are all the same type of particle, with different masses. The masses of the two weak force carriers aren't even the same, they differ by a few percent which wasn't accurately measured for a decade or so after discovery.

      Along the same lines, you *could* argue that the strong force is 8 forces - there are 8 gluons. The gluons differ only in their "colour" charge. But it's coincidental that we humans are larger than a proton, so we never see colour charge, and to us the gluons are all the same. Most reasonable physicists would call this one force, I'm just being pedantic here.

      Also controversial.....what has become conventional to call the strong force, isn't, its the *colour force*. The *originally defined* strong force is the force between protons and neutrons, which turns out that it isn't "fundamental". Rather it is the "long range" effect of the colour force, where long range is the size of the atomic nucleus. However, there is a rather good paper about quantum protectorates by Laughlin, that should up-end people's thinking about how to define fundamental. Basically, he challenges the reductionist methodology that smaller is always more fundamental, and gives a solid mathematical background for scale-dependent "fundamental" physics. For example, that the speed of sound doesn't depend on the atomic model.

      Anyway, the *original* strong force is mediated by *pions*. These are observed, their properties are well-measured, and the actual binding force of real atomic nuclei is pretty well calculated based on pions alone without talking about gluons.

      Last one that people usually fail to mention, is that the Higgs boson has a force that goes along with it. This has all the characteristics that people normally ascribe to a force, and it affects everything. But it's so commonplace and in plain sight of everyday experience that people forget it. Quite simply, its the force that pushes back when you try to accelerate something. It's inertia!

      The force that every smart-alec physics GCSE textbook tells you is a fake force....isn't fake at all. *It's the Higgs force*. And it happens because the vacuum has a non-zero Higgs vacuum expectation value. This allows every particle to interact with the vacuum, experiencing a force relative to it.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: There are only four

        Nice explanation. Especially the discussion of the "strong" force being an emergent property of the "colour" force, which I wasn't previously aware of, and the clearest yet explanation of the Higgs boson.

        One question, though: if the Higgs boson is responsible for inertial mass, is this also the same as gravitational mass? Apologies if this is a trick question; I suspect the answer is "maybe"...

        The "spacey-timey" effects of general relativity describe effects on the latter, but I was under the impression that GR is difficult to reconcile with QM, especially when talking about "very big" and "very small", i.e. things like black holes, and their annoying lack of dimensionality, things moving at close to c, and so on. I know Hawking predicted some interesting things as a result of the interaction between these (i.e. Hawking radiation being caused by virtual particles having one fall within the Schwartzschild radius, and one escape), but I thought problems still remained, largely with equations that try to marry the two fields inconveniently running into infinities. Is this correct, or am I talking bollocks here?

        1. Justthefacts Bronze badge

          Re: There are only four

          Good questions, and yes I think you have the measure of it.

          The equivalence of inertial mass and gravitational mass is not understood, exactly in the sense that we don’t have a proper quantum theory of gravity. General Relativity (geodesic explanation) tells us *top-down* that they must be the same. But microscopically *bottom-up* we don’t understand it, because the mathematical complexities due to that nasty spin 2 of the graviton make all the maths we have diverge to give nonsense. We don’t know how to make top-down and bottom-up approaches meet in the middle.

          One common misconception that’s worth breaking: quantum gravity isn’t needed to understand black holes. *By the standards of quantum gravity*, the gravitational field at the black hole horizon isn’t even particularly strong, and nothing special happens there. Equivalent to - Hawking radiation is *cold* - even a stellar mass black hole is like 0.1 microKelvin. It’s “just” basic thermodynamics plus low-temperature quantum mechanics. Strong space time curvature in the context of QG is on length scale Planck length, ie near the central singularity we can’t see.

          1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            Re: There are only four

            Yes, the distinction between the event horizon and singularity is an important one, the event horizon just being the point at which you can't accelerate hard enough to get away (in layman's terms).

            The singularity in the middle is the properly mind-boggling bit, especially the idea that it has fewer dimensions than the space it inhabits - basically only having mass, spin and charge IIRC* and all the other properties that everything else in the universe has, such as size don't apply.

            *Does a black hole have position and velocity? Can these be known precisely, or does the Uncertainty Principle apply? Does a black hole behave like a quantum particle, just a really massive, and potentially charge and spin-heavy one?

      2. EVP

        Re: There are only four

        Thanks. May all the forces - well, n-1 of them - be with you.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So far brain signals seems fairly opaque - they can be measured but nothing coherent decoded (expect activity level, and perhaps very rough emotions). Of course from the center of the panopticon all human activities can be observed, and that is really enough to offer complete control.

    Humans still have the freedom to think, provided they don't act upon those thought, which unfortunateley is no freedom at all. (Pretty sure this theme was covered in 1984).

    1. mevets Bronze badge

      Not exactly true...

      I worked a bit with a company who could demonstrate playing video games and navigating web mazes using brainwaves.

      The device, of course, had no idea what you were thinking or how to decode it. But rather than you training it, it trained you. Training started with quadrants of the screen, and a little dot that moved somehow in relation to the sensors on your head.

      After a bit of practice, you could figure out how to make your head emit signals to move the dot into the desired square. The rest was just practice and refinement.

      I lost track of them; I presumed they were rigging this demo for a chest full of investor lucre..

  17. Bruce Ordway

    Laptop electrical noise

    On a related note....

    I swear that I can hear my laptop "working" since I hooked it's video/audio up to my TV.

    Usually most noticeable while transferring large files in Windows.

    Then it defiintely sounds like a transmitted signal rather that just random noise.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Laptop electrical noise

      Yes, because that's one of your buses operating at its typical speed. Other parts change their frequency a lot so their signal moves around and is less noticeable to humans or is at too low a frequency to be detected by the common equipment. An active transfer usually means that at least one and more often two buses are communicating as fast as data becomes available, and if your disk is fast enough, that would be almost all the time. That's a simpler wave. Your connection to the TV may also be leaky. I remember this being a problem with 2.4 GHz WiFi on unshielded devices using HDMI because one of the HDMI standards was using a frequency that interfered with it unless either the cable or device was protected from it.

  18. Luiz Abdala
    Big Brother

    PC speakers and mobile calls and dental fillings.

    I kinda liked when speakers attached to my PC predicted my mobile was receiving a call. It was a very deliberate tune, just like a fax tone.

    For quite some time, they could also pickup exactly 90.5 MHz, which was the local News FM, its antenna just 500m away. It was hard to listen to Windows bings and bangs, drowned by the latest political scandal.

    To be honest, I think you could hear that FM newscast coming from your dental fillings in a quiet room, given the signal could still be heard in your car some 50 or 60km away.

  19. Electronics'R'Us Silver badge
    Holmes

    Speed of propagation

    The EM field works its magic through one weird trick. If you change the speed of an electron, which all electronics does all the time, it gives off electromagnetic waves.

    That is incorrect. The velocity of propagation in a given medium is constant. (In metallic conductors it depends primarily on the relative permittivity of the material. A strict definition includes the relative permeabilty but as it is so close to being equal with that of free space it can be safely ignored for the vast majority of calculations).

    For most PCB materials that velocity is about half the speed of light and in most cables (includes CAT4/5/6) it is more like 67% of the speed of light. Note that this is the propagation velocity of the field; individual electrons don't move very quickly overall except in superconductors.

    What does happen is that the strength of the field varies (and often the direction) and it is those changes that causes both interference and susceptibility. These variations in the strength of the field are what can be received externally.

    From fundamentals of electromagnetics (Faraday discovered this), when there is a current flowing in a conductor, then a magnetic field is guaranteed to be present around the conductor. The strength of the magnetic field is proportional to the current flowing. Modulating the current by imposing information on it varies the strength of the field.

    In modern electronics, the magnetic field is much stronger than the electric field (ask any EMC engineer) and cannot be contained with a Faraday cage; a full (sealed) magnetic enclosure is required.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Speed of propagation

      There's another problem with the statement:

      "If you change the speed of an electron....it gives off electromagnetic waves."

      If it was completely true, electrons wouldn't be able to "orbit" atoms.

      (Yes, pedants, in a perfectly circular, classical orbit, the speed doesn't change. But the velocity does, and that's what matters.)

      1. David Nash

        Re: Speed of propagation

        But they don't really orbit, do they? my understanding was that the whole "orbit" thing was a classical simplification, long superseded by QM and probabilities.

        Or have I forgotten something?

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: Speed of propagation

          It is precisely because their energy levels are quantised that the "orbits" can't decay and release radiation. In fact, they can only release photons of specific energies, when they transition from one "orbit" to a lower one. We call the "orbits" energy levels.

          It was the observation that atoms only emit photons at specific wavelengths (i.e. energies) that led in part to the discovery of quantum theory.

  20. JDX Gold badge

    So it seems sending data through cables is in effect security through obscurity. Doesn't this simply mean we should send data encrypted as standard... good security means you can have all my packets and I'm still safe.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Which is practically impossible thanks to data capture. They can hold the encrypted data and wait until a way to decrypt it (by cracking the code or the algorithm or by capturing either end since encrypted data can't read by the Mk I Eyeball) comes along.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        For most people's concerns, the fact that something that is encrypted now might be decrypted 20 years in the future, if a flaw is found in the cipher, or if computers advance enough, or might be decrypted a month from now if they throw enough supercomputers at it, is not an issue.

        Preventing MITM attacks on banking transmissions is a real concern. Unless those packets can be decrypted in near real-time, as the intended recipient can do using their private key, decrypting them is almost invariably a useless act.

        We might get to the point where quantum computers can be made that will factor out huge prime numbers really fast, and break the protection offered by current ciphering mechanisms. I wouldn't hold your breath, I predict that practical nuclear fusion power generation will be here first. I've heard it's only ten years away now. As it has been for at least the last five decades.

  21. Conundrum1885

    How would

    A business protect against crooks with access to terascale portable ML running on an SDR array?

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