With all of the Internet incessantly consumed by Steve Jobs’ health (none of your business), the startups at DEMO/TC50 (can’t remember a single one of them yet), and the audacity of politicians who lie (what a surprise), it seems like not many people were paying attention to some other fairly important news last night. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was turned on last night, and the reports so far – it works. Or, well, we aren’t quite sure about the results, other than not destroying the universe as we know it.
I’ll be honest, I’m quite unaware of the actual technology here, and I don’t really understand the actual risk level. But if you weren’t aware either it works a little something like this. The humongous machine took 20 years to build, was extremely expensive, but could teach us how the universe actually works. Keeping the science talk out of it (from what I’m learning, this is how one becomes a successful politician – ignore things like scientific details and economics, those are just for them elite folks), basically this is like a nuclear reactor on Barry Bonds quality steroids.
When operational, the machine takes two atoms, and smashes them together really hard. Then they use a bunch of meters and instruments to see what happened (they also stream live video). Ideally they replicate the Big Bang (or, as creationists like to call it, Sunday at about 8am) and learn how it happened.
The only glitch, as some point out, is that if they really pull it off, recreating the Big Bang could be, well, in a word, catastrophic. Now some may recall the Y2K panic, which was a bunch of technically illiterate bizness-folks overreacting to a near-non-issue (and I’ll be honest, I was avoiding elevators that day). This time, however, it’s those science folks who were concerned, and fairly legitimately so. But, regardless of caution, the Swiss engineers at LHC decided to flip the switch of the machine designed 20 years ago (you know, before cell phones, laptops, TiVo) to see what would happen.
Again, I don’t know how real the threat was. Could’ve been nothing at all. But something does kinda bother me about the notion of a small group of people having enough power at their disposal that has no form of international oversight whatsoever. Call me crazy.
For more fun reading on the way science can end the world, read on. If you’re getting a little panicky right now, click here instead for a soothing lullaby.