RIP Freeman Dyson: The super-boffin who applied his mathematical brain to nuclear magic, quantum physics, space travel, and more

Science's civil rebel dies aged 96


Video Freeman Dyson, the eminent British-American physicist and mathematician best known for his theoretical work in quantum electrodynamics, died today. He was 96.

His death was announced by his daughter Mia Dyson via Maine public television and the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS) – the top research hub in Princeton, New Jersey, once home to Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and other giants of science and technology.

Mia said her father accidentally fell on Wednesday during one of his regular visits to his office at the IAS, where he had worked from 1953 until 1994. He died from his injuries at a hospital on Friday morning.

“No life is more entangled with the institute – and impossible to capture — [he was an] architect of modern particle physics, free-range mathematician, advocate of space travel, astrobiology and disarmament, futurist, eternal graduate student, rebel to many preconceived ideas including his own, thoughtful essayist, all the time a wise observer of the human scene,” said Robbert Dijkgraaf, the Director and Leon Levy Professor at the IAS. “His secret was simply saying 'yes' to everything in life, till the very end.”

Top boffin Freeman Dyson on climate change, interstellar travel, fusion, and more

READ MORE

Dyson was born on December 15, 1923 in Berkshire, England, and read mathematics at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, aged 17. During the Second World War, he was pulled from academia to work as a scientist helping Blighty's Royal Air Force target German aircraft. After the war, he returned to Cambridge to complete his degree.

In 1947, he moved to the United States to obtain a PhD at Cornell University, studying alongside Hans Bethe, one of the pioneering nuclear physicists who played a crucial role in America's top-secret atom-bomb-building lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

"I came to Cornell to work with Hans Bethe, who was one of the greatest physicists in the world," Dyson said in a wide-ranging interview in 2008.

"He was right there at Cornell. He had been second-in-command at Los Alamos. It was just an ideal situation. In addition to Hans Bethe, there were many other Los Alamos veterans, who were then only about thirty years old, Feynman, and Phil Morrison, and Bob Wilson. Bob Wilson was chief of experimental physics, Bethe was chief of theoretical physics, and Phil Morrison was actually the fellow who carried the plutonium core to Tinian for the Nagasaki attack, so he was deeply involved in the business. Phil Morrison also visited Hiroshima very soon after it was destroyed.

"So there were those three people who were leading lights, who had been deeply involved at Los Alamos. I learned everything right from the horse's mouth."

And with that knowledge, Dyson soon disapproved of nations stockpiling nuclear weapons, noting:

If the United States gets attacked with a nuclear weapon, it won’t be from a government at all, but it will be a bunch of bad guys carrying a weapon in a suitcase or in a car or in a truck or something of that kind. You won’t even know where it comes from. That’s by far the most probable danger to the United States. That danger you don’t deal with by deterrence at all, so from that point of view it’s irrelevant how much we have ourselves. It’s also possible one of our own weapons gets stolen and used against us. That’s another reason for not having them.

You can watch the full interview below...

Youtube Video

Dyson applied his mathematical wizardry in many areas in science, from particle physics and astrophysics, to space travel, biology, and tackling climate change sans hysteria. He earned a ton of awards, almost too many to list, and was a professor emeritus at Princeton, and a member of various scientific organizations.

His biggest contribution, in this vulture's mind, was uniting mathematical formulations describing interactions of subatomic particles with the squiggly lines of Feynman diagrams. He also came up with the additive number theory technique dubbed Dyson's transform, star-harvesting Dyson spheres that featured in Star Trek, and more.

"You could tell that the world was a beautiful place through his eyes, and somehow understanding all the formulas and the natural laws and all the mysteries he had plumbed through the study of physics, that it only grew more and more beautiful, the more he understood," Mia Dyson said today.

Dyson leaves behind his wife of 64 years, Imme, and six children. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Electron-to-joule conversion formulae? Cute. Welcome to the school of hard knocks

    Shake, rattle and roll is incompatible with your PABX

    On Call There are some things they don't teach you in college, as a Register reader explains in this week's instalment of tales from the On Call coalface.

    Our reader, safely Regomised as "Col", headed up the technical support team of a PABX telecom provider and installer back in the early 1990s. PABX, or Private Automatic Branch eXchange, was the telephony backbone of many an office. A failure could be both contract and career-limiting.

    Col, however, was a professional and well versed in the ins and outs of such systems. Work was brisk and so, he told us, "I took on a university grad with all the spunk and vigour that comes with it. He knew the electron-to-joule conversion formulae et al."

    Continue reading
  • Korea's NAVER Cloud outlines global ambitions, aim to become Asia's third-biggest provider

    Alibaba is number two in much of the region, but is a bit on the nose right now

    Korean web giant NAVER has outlined its ambition to bring its cloud to the world, and to become the third-largest cloud provider in the Asia-Pacific region.

    NAVER started life as a Korean web portal, added search, won the lion's share of the market, and has kept it ever since. South Korea remains one of the very few nations in which Google does not dominate the search market.

    As NAVER grew it came to resemble Google in many ways – both in terms of the services it offers and its tendency to use its muscle to favour its own properties. NAVER also used its scale to start a cloud business: the NAVER Cloud Platform. It runs the Platform in its home market, plus Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Presences in Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand are imminent.

    Continue reading
  • Build it fast and they will come? Yeah, but they’ll only stay if you build it right

    Here’s where to start

    Sponsored Developers have never had so much choice. Every week there’s a new framework, API, or cloud service that promises to help deliver software to market faster than ever. And it’s not just tooling. Agile, continuous integration, and DevOps techniques have made teams more efficient, too. But speed brings with it increased expectations. Pressure from customers and colleagues, alongside the burden of staying current with new tooling, can lead to mistakes.

    Whether it’s a showstopping bug that slips through into production or an edge case that lies in wait for years, pressure to deliver is driving some teams to pile up technical debt and mismatched stakeholder expectations.

    What’s the solution? Well, it’s to do what we’ve always done: build on what came before. In the absence of unlimited time and budget, a low-code platform gives both experienced and new developers a suite of tools to accelerate their development. Automation in just the right places lets teams bring their unique value where it really matters, while all the standard building blocks are taken care of.

    Continue reading
  • Royal Navy will be getting autonomous machines – for donkey work humans can't be bothered with

    No robot killers 'in my lifetime' says admiral

    DSEI 2021 The British armed forces will be using robots as part of future warfare – but mostly for the "dull, dangerous and dirty" parts of military life, senior officers have said.

    At London's Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair, two senior officers in charge of digitisation and automation said the near future will be more Wall-E than Terminator – but fully automated war machines are no longer just the stuff of sci-fi.

    Brigadier John Read, the Royal Navy's deputy director of maritime capability, said in a speech the military "must automate" itself so it can "take advantage of advances in robotics, AI and machine learning."

    Continue reading
  • WTF? Microsoft makes fixing deadly OMIGOD flaws on Azure your job

    Clouds usually fix this sort of thing before bugs go public. This time it's best to assume you need to do this yourself

    Microsoft Azure users running Linux VMs in the IT giant's Azure cloud need to take action to protect themselves against the four "OMIGOD" bugs in the Open Management Infrastructure (OMI) framework, because Microsoft hasn't raced to do it for them.

    As The Register outlined in our report on this month's Patch Tuesday release, Microsoft included fixes for flaws security outfit Wiz spotted in Redmond's open-source OMI agents. Wiz named the four flaws OMIGOD because they are astonishing.

    The least severe of the flaws is rated 7/10 on the Common Vulnerability Scoring System. The worst is rated critical at 9.8/10.

    Continue reading
  • Businesses put robots to work when human workers are hard to find, argue econo-boffins

    The lure of shiny new tech isn't a motivator, although in the USA bots are used to cut costs

    Researchers have found that business adoption of robots and other forms of automation is largely driven by labor shortages.

    A study, authored by boffins from MIT and Boston University, will be published in a forthcoming print edition of The Review of Economic Studies. The authors, Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo, have both studied automation, robots and the workforce in depth, publishing numerous papers together and separately.

    "Our findings suggest that quite a bit of investment in robotics is not driven by the fact that this is the next 'amazing frontier,' but because some countries have shortages of labor, especially middle-aged labor that would be necessary for blue-collar work,” said Acemoglu in a canned statement.

    Continue reading
  • After eight years, SPEC delivers a new virtualisation benchmark

    Jumps from single-server tests to four hosts – but only for vSphere and RHV

    The Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC) has released its first new virtualisation benchmark in eight years.

    The new SPECvirt Datacenter 2021 benchmark succeeds SPEC VIRT_SC 2013. The latter was designed to help users understand performance in the heady days of server consolidation, so required just one host. The new benchmark requires four hosts – a recognition of modern datacentre realities.

    The new tests are designed to test the combined performance of hypervisors and servers. For now, only two hypervisors are supported: VMware’s vSphere (versions 6.x and 7.x) and Red Hat Virtualisation (version 4.x). David Schmidt, chair of the SPEC Virtualization Committee, told The Register that Red Hat and VMware are paid up members of the committee, hence their inclusion. But the new benchmark can be used by other hypervisors if their vendors create an SDK. He opined that Microsoft, vendor of the Hyper-V hypervisor that has around 20 per cent market share, didn’t come to play because it’s busy working on other SPEC projects.

    Continue reading
  • Forget that Loon's balloon burst, we just fired 700TB of laser broadband between two cities, says Google

    Up to 20Gbps link sustained over the Congo in comms experiment

    Engineers at Google’s technology moonshot lab X say they used lasers to beam 700TB of internet traffic between two cities separated by the Congo River.

    The capitals of the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazzaville and Kinshasa, respectively, are only 4.8 km (about three miles) apart. The denizens of Kinshasa have to pay five times more than their neighbors in Brazzaville for broadband connectivity, though. That's apparently because the fiber backbone to Kinshasa has to route more than 400 km (250 miles) around the river – no one wanted to put the cable through it.

    There's a shorter route for data to take between the cities. Instead of transmitting the information as light through networks of cables, it can be directly beamed over the river by laser.

    Continue reading
  • Apple's M1 MacBook screens are stunning – stunningly fragile and defective, that is, lawsuits allege

    Latest laptops prone to cracking, distortions, owners complain

    Aggrieved MacBook owners in two separate lawsuits claim Apple's latest laptops with its M1 chips have defective screens that break easily and malfunction.

    The complaints, both filed on Wednesday in a federal district court in San Jose, California, are each seeking class certification in the hope that the law firms involved will get a judicial blessing to represent the presumed large group of affected customers and, if victorious, to share any settlement.

    Each of the filings contends Apple's 2020-2021 MacBook line – consisting of the M1-based MacBook Air and M1-based 13" MacBook Pro – have screens that frequently fail. They say Apple knew about the alleged defect or should have known, based on its own extensive internal testing, reports from technicians, and feedback from customers.

    Continue reading
  • Microsoft's Azure Virtual Desktop now works without Active Directory – but there are caveats

    General availability of Azure AD-joined VMs

    Microsoft has declared general availability for Azure Virtual Desktop with the VMs joined to Azure AD rather than Active Directory, but the initial release has many limitations.

    Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), once called Windows Virtual Desktop, is Microsoft's first-party VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) solution.

    Although cloud-hosted, Azure Virtual Desktop is (or was) based on Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services tech which required domain-joined PCs and therefore a connection to full Windows Active Directory (AD), either in the form of on-premises AD over a VPN, or via Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS) which is a Microsoft-managed AD server automatically linked to Azure AD. In the case that on-premises AD is used, AD Connect is also required, introducing further complexity.

    Continue reading
  • It's bizarre we're at a point where reports are written on how human rights trump AI rights

    But that's what UN group has done

    The protection of human rights should be front and centre of any decision to implement AI-based systems regardless of whether they're used as corporate tools such as recruitment or in areas such as law enforcement.

    And unless sufficient safeguards are in place to protect human rights, there should be a moratorium on the sale of AI systems and those that fail to meet international human rights laws should be banned.

    Those are just some of the conclusions from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) in a report for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021