The What If Machine - Portal

In this, the debut episode of What If Machine, Cam takes a look at the science of Portal, featuring the portal gun itself, AI, and robots.

by

The debut episode of The What If Machine, GameSpot's brand-new science-fuelled gaming show has landed. We kick things off with a look at the science of Portal. Let us know all of your thoughts in the comments box, and feel free to take the conversation to me on Twitter @camfrazrob, or use the #whatifmachine.

If you enjoy the show then don't forget to visit the youtube show page and subscribe! That way you need never miss your weekly dose of science-meets-videogames goodness. And for those of you who just can't wait for next weeks episode, why not take a look in the meantime at our videos on the science of Mass Effect, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Assassins's Creed.

Our thanks to Noel Sharkey and Chris Doran for their support and wonderful interviews.

Check out Noel's website here.

Find out more about Geomerics here.

Discussion

183 comments
RuthlessRich
RuthlessRich

The best Sci-Fi universes require you to take one or two scientific leaps of faith (e.g. portal gun is possible) and derive everything else from that. Portal is one of the best examples of this

catinblender
catinblender

Sorry to take the intellectual tone off the conversations but does anyone have any idea where I can get the tshirt Cam is wearing in this video from? I have seen it a couple of times now and can't seem to find it online anywhere. It's the one with the fisherman and the whale, with the stars in the sky.

 

Thanks :) 

walcor
walcor

I think its a great idea for a show, but the "scientist" wasn't making much of an impression on what he had to say....Wormkid_64 comments on this were pretty much what I was going for...Im also not a physicist, but assuming that the speed of light is the fastest way to travel and nothing can go faster than that is a bit old...even if its currently only theoretical, wormholes can bypass that issue, bending and warping space anyone...and as for a more advanced race of aliens inventing it....populating the entire universe isn't what I call a ADVANCED thought! No intelligent race needs to occupy an entire universe, this is how primitive species ensure their existence. Intelligent beings would probably have access to extended life time, maby tens of thousands of years. Intelligent aliens would not need to number in their trillions to survive. Even if we talk about conflict, their capabilities would ensure no one in their right mind would attack them, nor would they need to attack others, as they would probably posses energy gathering tech that they can sustain them self for eons...

 

As for our strive for achieving AI, I think that its something that will happen in a manner as follows: instead of programmed and fully silicon based AI, a combination neural and silicon based AI will be the way to get a human like intelligence...since neural computers have the ability to learn and understand stimuli, anyone seen the rat neuron powered computer fling a flight sim....

 

All Im saying is whats sci-fi today is science fact tomorrow....

Wormkid_64
Wormkid_64

LAst post. To answer his ultimate question at the end: No,I don't care if a game is scientifically feasable in the real world or not. I c'mon,look at Mario. Dinosaurs have been extinct for millions of years,but not their helping plumbers defeat fire breathing turtles? But it's a heap of fun,so I don't care that it's unrealistic,and the same goes for any other game I play,unless it's one that's claiming to emulate reality. If that's the case,than keep it real.

Wormkid_64
Wormkid_64

Absolutely. I must have my personal Wheatley joking machine and Turret!

Wormkid_64
Wormkid_64

I've heard of Watson before! He's pretty cool.

Wormkid_64
Wormkid_64

Well I'm no physicist,but what he said about the gun creating energy from nothing doesn't make sense. The gun doesn't create energy in the scenario he mentioned and the energy isn't coming from nothing. You gain it from falling,same as if you step off a cliff. It only makes sense that that would happen if you elevated yourself with a portal. in fact,the energy doesn't even start to be gained until you're through the portal. As to more intelligent life elsewhere definitely discovering portal tech and populating the entire universe just because A) Portals are possible, B) They're smart enough to find out, and C) Portals make you move fast - is somewhat presumptuous. That's a lot of "what ifs" just being assumed. In one question I can turn that around. What if intelligent aliens are somewhere having a similar discussion about us? If it is illogical for us to assume that we are the most intelligent creatures of all,wouldn't it be illogical for anyone to assume their species was? What if we're the smartest and we're the closest to discovering it just due to the fact the we conceptualized the very idea? Maybe we aren't the smartest but it just takes a really long time to figure out how portals can be made,and so not even the brightest minds in the universe have the technology yet. Additionally,suppose someone out there did discover it. Just because portals make you move fast doesn't mean you'd already populate the entire universe. Ffirstly,you need a population big enough to do that. If you have a million planets to colonize but only 500,000 people, it doesn't matter how fast you can move. Until you build your population,you won't be colonizing anything. The universe is big. Even light takes a long time to reach one thing from another,so a bunch of teleporting aliens would still have a tough time reaching the whole thing in short order. Speaking of light,that brings up his point about being able to move faster than light. Basically he was saying Einstein's work disproves the whole possibility. But unless I'm mistaken,it's Einstein's work that lead us to conclude that space can be bent, and if I can bend space between say,myself and the other side of the street,and then find some way to move myself across that bend(now we might be getting into wormholes) I should be able to simply step to the other side of the street-instantly,which is faster even than light.

 

Anyway this isn't to say that I believe portals are possible,though they might be,but if they were,I'm sure you wouldn't fire them from a gun onto a wall like a big quantum paintball. I'm also not sure about aliens. But all that aside,I enjoy science and hypothetical talk,so I think I'll enjoy this new feature. Hopefully the What If Machine sticks around.

infinity_
infinity_

I want my body cryo frozen or carbonized and heated again in 500 years...

skipper1993
skipper1993

Awesome show man, you've already made a regular viewer out of me ;)

krishnaV_
krishnaV_

That was a good show Cameron.. It's nice to see science fiction being explained along with the usual gaming news.. I for one am going to look forward to this every Monday. You've got my vote buddy.

rizi89
rizi89

Great..... Portal is one of the best SCI-FI games... I think time traveling is possible & I think Scientists will discover how to time travel in not too distant future......  & fester420 a human can never live forever so we should try to do, whatever we wanna do, in our lifetime......

fester420
fester420

I think before we start on portals we should figure out how we can put our conscious minds into something permanent.  If we can live and think forever then we can surely figure out portals.  

emandanijeldax
emandanijeldax

Not bad, but the most beloved SCI-FI series of all time is Mass Effect >.< :D

Falzonn
Falzonn

Props on the new show.  It's one I shall be tuning into next installment!

 

I agree with your conclusion at the end of the video.  A lot of science fiction might currently be considered impossible under present scientific understanding, but it certainly helps when the subject matter can at least be considered 'plausible' with a semi-understandable reasoning behind it.  I am still willing to go with 'magic' sc-fi (ala Star Trek) if it serves a greater purpose.

hazardousracerx
hazardousracerx

I disagree with what was said about the portal gun not being possible.  The law of conservation of energy is broken every day by black holes.  If energy cannot be created or destroyed then what happens to the energy that a black hole consumes?  The fact of the matter is that we don't know what happens to the energy beyond the event horizon of a black hole.  Effectively, the energy passing beyond the event horizon is being destroyed because it no longer falls within our understanding of physics.

 

Also, stating that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light is asinine when recently a particle (neutrino) was found that does travel faster than the speed of light.  While there are people trying to refute the claim based on the energy levels of the particles, multiple runs at varying distances have been conducted with the same results.  Back on the black hole reference, if nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, then it stands to reason that nothing can have an effect on space that is stronger than the speed of light would be it it were converted to mass, but not even light can escape a black hole.

 

Not too many years ago, there were some scientists investigating the possibility of a "wormhole" which would effectively be what the portal gun creates.  The 2 portals are the openings to a wormhole that bridges the gap between 2 points in space.

Patchezs
Patchezs

Awesome new show, looking forward to the next episode.

 

I don't agree that strong AI isn't something we could ever see in our lifetimes. It's worth watching the documentary Transcendent Man on futurist Ray Kurzweil. He predicts we'll have computers powerful enough to simulate a human brain within only the next 20-30 years or so because of the law of accelerating returns. Plenty of people disagree, but just look at how rapidly technology has evolved over even the last five years. Could you imagine having an iPhone five years ago? How about Siri? Naysayers were saying technology like this wouldn't exist for another 20 years not too long ago, and yet we're already moving beyond it.

 

Anyway, love the concept for this show, though a better title might've been "Mythbusters: Gamespot Edition".

sirkibble2
sirkibble2

Interesting although a bit underwhelming. I didn't expect Portal science to be real. It's science fiction. If it was science non-fiction, then I'd be a little concerned. 

kajisora
kajisora

I actually have a problem with the "if portals were real, aliens would be everywhere".

Assuming that portals would be possible and work exactly the way shown in the game:

 

Once a portal is established, travel is instantaneous as far as we can tell; actually creating the portal is not.

The portals fired from the gun do not even approach the speed of light (it is possible to send a portal across the room, then step back before it hits).

Colonizing the universe using portals would still take an incredibly long time: you would have to send out a portal from your home planet to the place where you predict a second planet will be once the portal arrives.

(in about 11 years, assuming you fire from earth to the nearest star system, IF you can fire a portal at the speed of light)

There would however be the huge benefit of instantaneous communication and travel between established outposts: portals would make a shared galactic civilization viable. Without instant communications, you would be bound to the speed of light; it's kind of hard to keep a civilisation running if it takes thousands of years to get a message from one end to the other.

 

not trying to bash; just having fun speculating ^^

enjoyed the show.

DukeTwicep
DukeTwicep

Since most sci-fi isn't sci-fi at all I couldn't care less. It seems that the industry decided to call everything futuristic: sci-fi, no matter if it could be something we Could have in a hundred or thousand years. For example, star wars is called sci-fi even though most things in there contradict science. And.. they even added some religious crap to it (the force) making it even less sci-fi (not saying star wars is bad, just saying it's not sci-fi in the original meaning of the word).

Shortly, sci-fi is a term most use to cover all futuristic works of art.

Secondly, we wouldn't get as many sci-fi titles if all creators had to consult with scientists before continuing, and that would be very sad, not to mention that scientists have more important stuff to do (doing real science) than to be consultants to writers/directors/etc.

Thirdly, "laws are meant to be broken", often it's just more fun to go outside the boundaries of science. The ragdolls for FEAR, how hilarious wasn't that? You're meant to have fun playing games, so I guess if the game is really boring then you could start caring if it's correct sci-fi or not.

 

If I want a true sci-fi story, then I read a book.

MustSeeMelons
MustSeeMelons

Good shows lately, enjoy waching em'.

Its sci-fi, it doesn't have to be completely accurate, if they are enjoyable and dont become completely unreal i cant say no.

DKtroa
DKtroa

They made us look into the end of the device! How dare.. dare.. hulrpurgh..ruuuuufffff!     Baguack!!

jay501
jay501

Id say as long as the "science" is believable, I'll enjoy it. If its completely ridiculous and its not trying to be funny, theres no way I can take enjoyment from it.

BlazeODU
BlazeODU

While I WOULD agree that if Portal technology was possible, aliens would have made contact with us by now, let's really think about this...

 

First of all, I'm pretty sure that there are alien races that have been observing us for a very long time now, because there is probably no other race out there in the universe that is greedy, evil, sinful, and yet funny, lovable, and compassionate, all at the same time.

 

Let's face it, if WE can't even understand ourselves, what makes you think Aliens would want to?

pfunkmort
pfunkmort

I would definitely set up one of the malfunctioning turrets underneath a bird feeder.

danielwd
danielwd

I find that if sci-fi doesn't have a minor basis in what is technically possible then it isn't by definition, science fiction. It's just regular fiction, flashy lights and metal instead of flashy lights and bits of sticks doesn't change in from harry potter into portal.

artyom570568
artyom570568

I would have offered my immortal soul to see those prophecies come to pass....

puddinghead101
puddinghead101

I am really enjoying these shows the Gamespot UK staff are producing. This show is a brilliant addition to the line up. Keep up the good work.

kuda001
kuda001

Arthur C Clarke encapsulated it perfectly when he said that magic is just science we don't understand yet. He was a sci-fi writer btw and not an actual scientist per se but nonetheless...

Bowser453
Bowser453

My big thing about sci fi and fantasy in media, not only video games, is that they can break whatever laws of nature they want and can add any laws they want. My only criteria is that once they establish a law they don't break it. A for instance of this being done poorly is the Dragon Ball series. In the first series it is very clear that someone can be raised from the dead by the Dragon Balls, but only once per individual. Cool, they added a rule, that while completely unfeasible, is now a rule in that universe and I will suspend my disbelief for that rule. The series than completely loses credibility and drama in my eyes the moment that a person is raised from the dead for the second time. I didn't watch the show till termination but I know that Krillin was raised on at least two occasions along with Tien.

TJ_Hooker15
TJ_Hooker15

 @Wormkid_64 As far as conservation of energy is concerned, you forgot about potential energy. In your example of stepping off a cliff, as you are climbing to the top of the cliff, you are expending energy (calories) in order to increase your potential energy. When you step off the cliff and begin to fall, your potential energy is being converted to kinetic energy. Total energy is conserved. In the portal example no energy is expended to reach that height, so the potential energy would come  from nowhere.

angubaranar123
angubaranar123

 @hazardousracerx The first part is just a guess... I could say the energy is turned into pink unicorns because it no longer falls within our understanding of physics. Maybe it fuels the Flying Spaghetti Monster... that's another option.If we don't know the answer to something, it doesn't mean we can give one we like and consider it true (usually that's called belief).The part about neutrino traveling faster than light was a hoax... the equipment scientists used was flawed. In 2012 further experiments proved that neutrino velocities consistent with the speed of light.About investigating... I can investigate if Barbie has a demon trapped inside, but this doesn't mean it has one.

cameronrobinson
cameronrobinson moderator

 @Patchezs thanks for the feedback! Interesting note: Sharkey was inline to debate Kurzweil a few years ago for some google conference but unfortunately Kurzweil pulled out. Would have been a very interesting debate. 

 

Oh and while i love the name suggestion, that might have been a tad too 'copywrite infringementy'.

ChaosUndivided
ChaosUndivided

 @kajisora The portal gun took less then 3 seconds to make a portal on the moon at the end of Portal 2

kajisora
kajisora

oops, i goofed.

5 years for closest star.

Curse my lazy research and faulty memory!

fishy_87
fishy_87

 @Bowser453 i agree looses its steam after "cell" but what you're say is is crap, yes krillin is shit and shouldn't have been revived more than once perhaps but he does and it does explain it in the comic and series.  i cant be assed to explain how he does it but my point is how can you make a fare assessment of something you havent watched in its entirety. as far as i know it does not break the rules it put in place, well at least in the comic it dosnt.

krishnanmc3
krishnanmc3

 @Bowser453 , do you read science fiction/fantasy? Methinks the Malazan series would be a good read for you.

Wormkid_64
Wormkid_64

 @TJ_Hooker15 That's probably the most intelligent argument anyone has ever given on this website. Most of the people here wouldn't think,they'd rather spout an insult. Anyway you got me thinking,so I came up with a little thought experiment.

 

Suppose a man and wife hike to a plateau at an elevation of 500 feet above sea level. They've expended the needed energy to move their weight up there,and now have the potential energy to fall back to sea level from a nearby cliff. Now they have a child while they're living up there. He never leaves the plateau,never ascends any higher or descends any lower. But without himself expending any energy to get there,he was born with the same potential to plummet 500 feet to sea level that his parents gained through the expenditure of energy. Now instead of "X" amount of weight that can fall(man and woman) we have "Y" amount.(Man,woman,and child.) The energy expended to create the child and make him grow wouldn't have come from the climb,it would have come from his parents,who gained it from eating,and later from the food he himself ate. The potential to fall was there simply due to his surroundings. One could even say the same thing if his parents hiked DOWN to sea level(Not storing any kind of potential energy through elevation),and he was born there, thus giving him  the potential to step into the sea and sink to the bottom of a sudden drop off.

 

What do you think?

 

Of course we're talking about a portal here,which gets into quantum mechanics,and those by their very nature don't follow classical physics. It's the reason the branch of science was created. Since the portals in this game are basically wormholes,could we conclude that through the bending of space,Chell is making the higher point on the wall closer than it is under normal circumstances,taking a step through the wormhole,gathering potential energy from being transported to this higher location,and then falling?

jomipira
jomipira

 @TJ_Hooker15 Of course the calories you are spending have nothing to do with potential energy. If you walked in a straight line you would eventually loose the same amount of calories with no potential energy created. You walked there, so the energy was spent on your movement. And remember that the conservation of energy law only applies to an isolated system. One can argue that if portals existed then it would not be an isolated system, and that energy could be exchanged with the surroundings. Well, a normal room, with no portal guns is not an isolated system, so the whole example doesn't make much sense...

kajisora
kajisora

 @ChaosUndivided 

distance earth moon:  about 384,400km

384.400/3=128133.33 km/s 

speed of light = 299792.458

portals determined to move at roughly half the speed of light, possibly with significant drag in atmosphere!

xd

mudermor
mudermor

 @fishy_87 if the rule is: "you get to live twice if a dragon ball helps you" and someone lives three times thats breaking the rules

Bowser453
Bowser453

 @krishnanmc3 Yes I do read them, and no I haven't read that one in particular, though after reading some of these reviews and comparisons I might just have to remedy that.

TJ_Hooker15
TJ_Hooker15

 @Wormkid_64 Hmm, the situation with the kid on the cliff is tricky. I'm certainly no expert, most of my original reply was just pieced together from the bits and pieces I remember from a couple physics classes, but I'll give it a shot.

At first glance the potential energy the child has (being at 500 ft) would seem to to come from nowhere because he never expended energy to reach that height. But mass is also a factor in potential energy so in this case the child has been increasing his potential via increasing his mass rather than the more obvious way of increasing altitude. In order to increase his mass, the child needs to eat, and in order to eat, food must must be brought up to 500 ft. So I guess that the energy expended to bring the food up to that height is being absorbed by the child in some very abstract way.

It's possible that this theory is inaccurate or flat out wrong, but it's my best guess.

 

As far as the quantum mechanics stuff goes your guess is as good as mine. I still think the guy in the video was right about there being a problem with conservation of energy because of the person stepping through the portal suddenly gaining potential energy seemingly from nowhere, but I would imagine that a society advanced enough to have portal technology would also have pretty advanced sources of energy so maybe they could have the increase in potenial energy somehow be supplied by whatever is powering the portal gun.

jomipira
jomipira

 @TJ_Hooker15 TJ, english isn't my first language, sometimes  I explain myself badly. But you're right anyway, there is some potential energy created by the calories you spend, although one cannot say that the amount of calories spent is in direct relation with the potential energy created by moving up.

TJ_Hooker15
TJ_Hooker15

 @jomipira I'm pretty sure the calories you're expending are related to potential energy. Yes, when you're moving horizontally, your potential energy is not increased because the energy you're using is used first to accelerate you and then to counteract drag and friction to keep you moving at a constant speed. Moving vertically requires more energy than moving horizontally though because you have to work against gravity, with some of that energy being converted to potential. Potential energy due to gravity is (mass)x(altitude)x(gravitational acceleration), so obviously the higher you are the more potential you have, and if you're walking then the only place this energy could come from is energy you expend, ie calories.

 

And yeah, you're right, the portal gun could supply energy itself or simply draw energy from its surroundings (air or whatever) to supply this increase in potential energy, but that wasn't mentioned in the post I was replying to.

kajisora
kajisora

 @ChaosUndivided  @kajisora 

true that.

I'm not claiming the portals would be a bad way to settle the galaxy; .5c is much better than we can expect from any ship carrying a living crew.

I'm just saying that portals do not make exploration instantaneous; the rest is just fun speculation on my part ^^

ChaosUndivided
ChaosUndivided

 @kajisora Yeah I know the speed of light 1.2 Billion km/h. I was just pointing out the portal does travel pretty fast. Even if we can never travel the speed of light. Half the speed of light is still a good speed to travel at which to start exploring the galaxy. Trips to near by stars will be like trips to the outer planets. 4.2 light years to Alpha Centuri. 8.4 years at half-light.

kajisora
kajisora

 @Inconsistancy 

the site i looked at said 4.24 actually.

the 5 was just rounded up for ease of use