UnNews:Scientists meld nuclear fusion and AI

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21 February 2024

Artist's rendition of a tokamak, covered with nearly free energy.

PRINCETON, New Jersey -- Scientists have made a giant leap toward nuclear fusion by turning to AI.

Nuclear fusion — unlike the atom-splitting power plants springing up around the world at the end of two decades of wrangling — involves shoving together two unwilling atoms in a microscopic blind date. The result is a big bang, and electricity that is "too cheap to meter," a con that hasn't been used in nearly a century.

Whereas Artificial Intelligence, or AI, involves using computers to act like human beings, a technology that promises to replace poor customer service from Pakistani help desks costing pennies a day, with poor customer service from machines costing nothing.

Workable fusion power could lead to all manner of handy inventions, such as this nuclear shaving razor.

Combining these two ultra-trending items and squeezing out some sort of synergy has been hailed as a major rhetorical breakthrough.

Scientists have achieved fusion in a doughnut-shaped machine called a tokamak. Within it, matter is heated to obscenely high levels at which it turns into plasma, a soup-like state. Powerful magnetic fields are designed to prevent leaks, which would spill plasma all over the tablecloth and have it drip onto the floor. However, the plasma has a tendency to escape the magnetic field anyway.

This week, researchers from Princeton University reported in the journal Nature a way to forecast spillages and counteract them before they happen. According to the abstract, a computer will use "speech-to-text" to tell observers not to jostle the lab bench. Also to sit up straight and stop fidgeting. AI will ensure that the voice sounds exactly like the observer's mother.

The researchers conducted their experiments one safe continent away from their own labs, at San Diego's National Fusion Facility, and once the bassists and drummers were cleared away, the researchers found that AI could predict spillages of the high-voltage soup 0.3 seconds in advance and issue its adaptive scoldings.

They warn that much research remains before fusion energy can save the planet from the scourge of person-made, runaway scary weather that has made so many news reporters feel guilty about heating their homes throughout the winter. A major unsolved problem is that fusion reactors require more energy than the reaction produces. And the reaction ends in under a second. However, recently, in the English city of Oxford, scientists set a new fusion record, sustaining 69 megajoules of energy for a full five seconds — enough to power roughly 12,000 households, giving each resident a crucial second try to light that cigarette.

Research drives on, however, as barely five years are left on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's prediction of irreversible, pollution-caused planetary meltdown. Unless, of course, we need a few more years to win the war in Ukraine.