Saturday, June 24, 2017

Questions America Wants Answered: Why Is the Speed of Light So Slow?

Today's QAWA was down to a choice between this and Paul Murphy's query: "Should we try and revive Camp Alphaville next year?". Upon consideration that he had already received 40 responses, some quite emphatic, I decided to go with this.

From Real Clear Science:
In 2015, a team of Scottish scientists announced they had found a way to slow the speed of light. By sending photons through a special mask, the researchers altered their shape. In this malformed state, these infinitesimal particles of light traveled slower than normal photons.

The difference in speed was almost imperceptible, but the accomplishment itself was stunning! At 299,792,458 meters per second, the speed of light has stood as an unbreakable, unchangeable speed limit. No longer.

But why would anybody want to slow down the speed of light? After all, it's already slow enough!
As strange as that assertion may seem to humans accustomed to traveling a mere 70 miles per hour on the highway, it makes a lot of sense on a cosmic scale. Consider this: If the observable Universe was reduced to the size of planet Earth, traversing the Milky Way Galaxy would be roughly equivalent to walking three houses down the block to visit your neighbor. And yet, traveling at the cosmic speed limit of our smaller, Earth-size universe, that short jaunt would take 100,000 years!

This example showcases just how tediously slow exploring the galaxy would be for a ship traveling at the speed of light. Such a journey would span more than a hundred human generations!

Even if you don't consider humanity's self-centered wish for interstellar light-speed travel and instead think about photons dashing across our solar system, the speed of light still seems positively sluggish. As astrophysicist Brian Koberlein calculated, it takes 45 minutes for light from the Sun to reach Jupiter, and five hours for it to reach Pluto.

And of course, when gazing at the sky with the naked eye, we're viewing some stars as they were more than 4,000 years in the past -- that's how long it takes their light to reach us!
So now that we've ascertained that light is not fast but rather is excruciatingly slow, we can now turn to a more pressing and difficult matter: Why?...


At APNIC the question is "Why is the Internet So Slow":
Latency is a critical determinant of the quality of experience for many Internet applications. Google and Bing report that a few hundred milliseconds of additional latency in delivering search results causes significant reduction in search volume, and hence, revenue. In online gaming, tens of milliseconds make a huge difference, thus driving gaming companies to build specialized networks targeted at reducing latency.

Present efforts at reducing latency, nevertheless, fall far short of the lower bound dictated by the speed of light in vacuum[1]. What if the Internet worked at the speed of light? Ignoring the technical challenges and cost of designing for that goal for the moment, let us briefly think about its implications.

A speed-of-light Internet would not only dramatically enhance Web browsing and gaming as well as various forms of “tele-immersion”, but it could also potentially open the door for new, creative applications to emerge. Thus, we set out to understand and quantify the gap between the typical latencies we observe today and what is theoretically achievable.

Our largest set of measurements was performed between popular Web servers and PlanetLab nodes, a set of generally well-connected machines in academic and research institutions across the World[2]. We evaluated our measured latencies against the lower bound of c-latency; that is, the time needed to traverse the geodesic distance between the two endpoints at the speed of light in vacuum.

Our measurements reveal that the Internet is much, much slower than it could be: fetching just the HTML of the landing pages of popular websites is (in the median) ~37 times worse than c-latency. Note that this is typically tens of kilobytes of data, thus making bandwidth constraints largely irrelevant in this context.

Where does this huge slowdown come from?...

While at the Priceonomics longread they ask:

Is Every Speed Limit Too Low?

I Want it Now!

Possibly related:
The Business Of Instant Gratification Appears to Have Promise

 "As the Economy Gets Ever Better at Satisfying our Immediate, Self-serving Needs, Who is Minding the Future?"
"How To Break the Information Age Trance of 'Continuous Partial Attention'"
McKinsey: "Our gambling culture--The craving for immediate gratification has spread well beyond Wall Street."
"The Rise of the On-Demand Economy"
Consumer Apps: On-Demand Economy Jumps the Shark