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Mark Bruce

Mark Bruce 

Australian based technophile loving life and avidly looking forward to the future.

Location: Adelaide

Followers: 15,511

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Views: 139,592,689

Cream of the Crop: 04/19/2012

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Most comments: 87

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2016-04-12 13:52:17 (87 comments; 15 reshares; 75 +1s; )Open 

Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth by Peter Turchin

This book changed my conception of war, culture, society, cooperation, competition, religion, and memes - to a lesser or greater extent.

The main thrust of Ultrasociety concerns support of new theories of evolutionary group selection to explain the rise and nature of the complex societies we currently find ourselves in, while challenging the standard criticisms of conventional evolutionary group selection. While genetics is of course mentioned, these advanced theories of group selection are based on Multilevel Cultural Selection, the selection of cultural traits, of memes or memeplexes, that lead to the evolution of ever-larger groups better able to compete, better able to cooperate, better able to produce more resources and more equitable societies. And this selection for the... more »

Most reshares: 42

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2016-05-25 13:16:55 (12 comments; 42 reshares; 96 +1s; )Open 

How Technology Hacks People's Minds

This article is just too damn good not to share - easily the best I've read in recent memory. I forget who first shared it here but thank you.

https://medium.com/@tristanharris/how-technology-hijacks-peoples-minds-from-a-magician-and-google-s-design-ethicist-56d62ef5edf3#.x953hbytl

It discusses 10 psychological hacks used in designing (typically) digital products and services to better grab and hold your attention, to the point of inducing a form of addiction if possible. In summary these are:

1. Controlling the menu to control the choices.
2. Making the experience like a slot machine.
3. The fear of missing something important.
4. The need for social approval.
5. Social favours and reciprocity.
6. Infinite feeds and autoplay.
7. Instant, "urgent" interruption. ... more »

Most plusones: 113

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2016-05-29 11:09:00 (5 comments; 32 reshares; 113 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 22/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/05/mapping-ncrna-computers-driving-maths.html

Mapping ncRNA, Protein modularity, Better infrared light capture, Clutter busting robots, Computers driving maths & science, Automatic DNA origami, Scaling quantum dots, Cancer immunotherapies, Reducing amyloid plaques, Large-scale IoT.

1. Mapping Non-Coding RNA from Junk DNA
A new technique called LIGR-Seq captures interactions between different RNA molecules, isolates them, sequences them, and so identifies novel functions for new non-coding RNA molecules http://www.thedonnellycentre.utoronto.ca/news/shedding-light-%E2%80%98dark-matter%E2%80%99-genome. Types of non-coding RNA’s include the following: rRNA, tRNA, snRNA, snoRNA, piRNA, miRNA, and lncRNA. Only 2% of the genome codes for mRNA and proteins.T... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2016-07-22 14:34:58 (28 comments; 3 reshares; 27 +1s; )Open 

G+

Like many I’ve noticed a bit of a slowdown on here over the last six months or so. Seems to be fewer posts by people and fewer comments than this time last year or the year before, which aside from the spate of posts last week I’ve also been guilty of.

Just wondering what people’s thoughts on the platform as a whole are and whether they’ve changed? Also if you find yourself spending more time elsewhere for whatever reason - if so where and why? Or if there is any general social media fatigue and just a desire to spend less time in general on these platforms?

Personally my usage and engagement has been limited during big chunks this year just by being generally busy. Aside from professional commitments at work I’ve also had many a busy weekend with trips down the coast for a break, trips up north to see the family, relaxing stays in the hills for ouranniversa... more »

G+

Like many I’ve noticed a bit of a slowdown on here over the last six months or so. Seems to be fewer posts by people and fewer comments than this time last year or the year before, which aside from the spate of posts last week I’ve also been guilty of.

Just wondering what people’s thoughts on the platform as a whole are and whether they’ve changed? Also if you find yourself spending more time elsewhere for whatever reason - if so where and why? Or if there is any general social media fatigue and just a desire to spend less time in general on these platforms?

Personally my usage and engagement has been limited during big chunks this year just by being generally busy. Aside from professional commitments at work I’ve also had many a busy weekend with trips down the coast for a break, trips up north to see the family, relaxing stays in the hills for our anniversary, hosting family members and going to football games - even climbing the local Adelaide Oval stadium roof, gardening involving moving tonnes of soil and gravel with a shovel and wheelbarrow, building a retaining wall, day trips to wineries, rifle shooting at a farm, and even the rare odd day to just relax and do nothing!

Social media wise I still prefer Google+, check in to see main and niche circles once or twice a day to quickly check updates and stream, although I’ve noticed that time on site has declined from what it used to be. I never really “got” or “used” Twitter before but I’m finding that I’m using it a little now since a couple of months ago, a quick scroll every day or two, just to check on different types of news that I can’t otherwise find here. Facebook, groan, still where all family and non-tech immediate friends are; quick check once a day or so, in and out as quick as possible unless something so stupid or inane demands a slap, a tiny bit of news, check any random messages, have noticed posting frequency by others has declined hugely. Or have I just hidden so many people there for wasting my attention that it just seems that way?

One big change in recent months is that I’m watching & listening to a lot more YouTube now. I’d estimate maybe 4-5 times as many videos as I used to watch & listen to.

Pic unrelated: just a nice spot near a local winery.___

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2016-07-18 14:10:28 (3 comments; 14 reshares; 58 +1s; )Open 

The Future of Our Individual and Collective Identity

A typically well-written and engaging article from Mark Manson. The Future of Self, recently explored the future of human identity given rapid transformatory advances in technology.

This begins in a light-hearted way, exploring identity from the sense of future brain computer interfaces and mind uploads and what identity means when you can add, remove, and edit skills, memories, and even personality traits. But then we get into far more subtle and interesting discussions centered around the fact that we look for external references to identify ourselves.

External references are determined by your environment and material circumstances; you can’t be Mozart if the piano hasn’t been invented, and if you’re a poor strategist in the chess team you may be a chess god in a community that doesn’t know how to play.And you... more »

The Future of Our Individual and Collective Identity

A typically well-written and engaging article from Mark Manson. The Future of Self, recently explored the future of human identity given rapid transformatory advances in technology.

This begins in a light-hearted way, exploring identity from the sense of future brain computer interfaces and mind uploads and what identity means when you can add, remove, and edit skills, memories, and even personality traits. But then we get into far more subtle and interesting discussions centered around the fact that we look for external references to identify ourselves.

External references are determined by your environment and material circumstances; you can’t be Mozart if the piano hasn’t been invented, and if you’re a poor strategist in the chess team you may be a chess god in a community that doesn’t know how to play. And you certainly couldn’t ask a caveman what side of the political spectrum they favoured: such a question, that we might consider a core part of our identity today, would not even make sense.

Technological and social development since the Enlightenment has continually boosted the complexity of identities that people can assume. Ponder then the impacts on identity when we have advanced genetic engineering and body modification, advanced robotics that provide mass unemployment and remove I am a [job title]. from people’s lexicon, and all the ways genuine and advanced VR will be able to mess with identities in ways we cannot imagine.

What happens when individual identities become so fluid and arbitrary and everyone realises the Self is an illusion? Does the SELF-preservation instinct also dissolve? Realising that no one intrinsically stands for anything? A unicellular organism that continually and arbitrarily swaps new genes in and out rapidly loses its identity as a defined species, and quite probably its ability to survive and pass on any replicable information at all.

This and more at: https://markmanson.net/future-of-self
___

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2016-07-17 13:23:38 (3 comments; 9 reshares; 54 +1s; )Open 

Surprising Hyperuniformity in Bird Retinas

+Natalie Wolchover is one of the best science writers around and she knocks it out of the park again with another brilliant piece over at Quanta discussing the hidden, non-regular, non-random pattern known as hyperuniformity that is present in the distribution of cone cells in bird retinas https://www.quantamagazine.org/20160712-hyperuniformity-found-in-birds-math-and-physics/.

Birds have had the longest time to evolve better colour vision and this hyperuniform pattern on bird retinas, this pattern of the five differently sized colour-sensitive cone cells, the individual distribution of which is neither too close nor too far apart, appears to have been strongly selected for.

The pattern appears to be an optimised solution to a packing problem that must balance the constraints of packing differently sized cells as tightly as... more »

Surprising Hyperuniformity in Bird Retinas

+Natalie Wolchover is one of the best science writers around and she knocks it out of the park again with another brilliant piece over at Quanta discussing the hidden, non-regular, non-random pattern known as hyperuniformity that is present in the distribution of cone cells in bird retinas https://www.quantamagazine.org/20160712-hyperuniformity-found-in-birds-math-and-physics/.

Birds have had the longest time to evolve better colour vision and this hyperuniform pattern on bird retinas, this pattern of the five differently sized colour-sensitive cone cells, the individual distribution of which is neither too close nor too far apart, appears to have been strongly selected for.

The pattern appears to be an optimised solution to a packing problem that must balance the constraints of packing differently sized cells as tightly as possible while ensuring uniform distribution, and contributes to birds having such fantastic vision.

But read the full piece for more detail and some counter-intuitive technological applications for hyperuniform materials distribution.

There was a release from Princeton regarding this work in early 2014, https://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S39/32/02E70/index.xml?section=topstories, although the original discovery dates back much earlier as hinted at in Natalie's article. ___

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2016-07-17 06:52:45 (6 comments; 20 reshares; 59 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 29/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/07/dna-origami-surfaces-robots-walk-like.html

DNA origami surfaces, Robots walk like humans, Printable metal filament, Machine learning tissue scanning, Transparent skull window, Drone vaccine delivery, Retinal Alzheimer’s detection, Inheriting differential cellular damage, Bacteria in brainstem, Molecular electronics.

1. Precise Surface Functionalisation via DNA Origami
Electron-beam lithography chip fabrication tools can create surfaces etched with photonic crystal cavity arrays, tuned to particular wavelengths of light, that contain up to seven distinct internal surface structures to which precise DNA origami shapes can bind to https://www.caltech.edu/news/dna-origami-lights-microscopic-glowing-van-gogh-51280. With fluorescent molecules (whose lighte... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 29/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/07/dna-origami-surfaces-robots-walk-like.html

DNA origami surfaces, Robots walk like humans, Printable metal filament, Machine learning tissue scanning, Transparent skull window, Drone vaccine delivery, Retinal Alzheimer’s detection, Inheriting differential cellular damage, Bacteria in brainstem, Molecular electronics.

1. Precise Surface Functionalisation via DNA Origami
Electron-beam lithography chip fabrication tools can create surfaces etched with photonic crystal cavity arrays, tuned to particular wavelengths of light, that contain up to seven distinct internal surface structures to which precise DNA origami shapes can bind to https://www.caltech.edu/news/dna-origami-lights-microscopic-glowing-van-gogh-51280. With fluorescent molecules (whose light emittance is chosen to match the cavity) attached to specific DNA origami shapes, each cavity can now be precisely filled with from zero to seven fluorescent molecules, and so providing a colour scale with eight shades that the group used to create a dime-sized copy of Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” containing over 65,000 distinct pixels. This is an exciting platform for building precisely patterned functional surfaces; one can imagine the fluorescent molecules being replaced with sensors, quantum dots, enzymes, and other DNA origami structures, perhaps as mini production lines.

2. Human-Like Robotic Gait
DURUS is a robotic platform recently used to demonstrate hyper-efficient, human-like robotic gait and bipedal locomotion http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/humanoids/durus-brings-humanlike-gait-and-fancy-shoes-to-hyperefficient-robots. DURUS walks nearly 20x more efficiently than the original ATLAS humanoid robot, has human-like heel-toe walking, and can wear human shoes while doing so. The most important facet here is that, while some hardware innovations were involved, the platform is mainly improved software that can be used with different hardware configurations and doesn’t suffer from the same restraints as before. More complex tests are planned for running and walking, and the platform should also prove just as useful in providing much improved prosthetics for amputees.

3. Metal Filament for 3D Printers
Filamet is the name for a new metal-based 3D printing filament launched by The Virtual Foundry that any standard plastic-filament-based 3D deposition printer can use to produce custom metallic objects http://3dprintingindustry.com/news/now-can-print-metal-3d-printer-85255/. The first filaments on offer contain either copper or bronze metallic powder in a resin that is only 11.5% plastic, 88.5% metal, that can be used to print a mostly-metal object that can be polished or else post-processed to remove the remaining plastic to achieve 99%+ pure metal. However, while other metals and even glass and ceramic versions are planned, such objects will be structurally composite in nature and won’t achieve the consistency and strength of a conventional metal object.

4. Machine Learning Tissue Scanning
3Scan is a company that produces knife-edge scanning microscopes for very finely slicing tissue samples and imaging these to produce virtual 3D models, and now plans to use machine learning techniques to further speed up and automate this virtual model reconstruction http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco/2016/07/11/tissue-analyzer-3scan-builds-out-machine-learning-with-14m-series-b/. This will be particularly interesting for slicing, scanning, and producing ever-larger brain connectome maps in future. Talking of virtual models of neurons and chunks of brain tissue, the Allen Institute for Brain Science has launched the comprehensive Allen Brain Observatory to further boost progress in this area http://www.alleninstitute.org/what-we-do/brain-science/news-press/articles/introducing-allen-brain-observatory.

5. Embedding a Transparent Window in the Skull
A new transparent form of the material yttria-stabilised zirconia was developed as part of the Window into The Brain project, aiming to utilise this material to replace sections of a human skull to allow optical access to the brain whenever needed http://www.gizmag.com/transparent-brain-window/44286/. Recent animal studies show that (i) lasers can pass through the device to not only treat neurons but also destroy bacteria that may be present due to surgery etc, and (ii) the material is tolerated extremely well by the body and avoids inflammation and immune rejection. It’ll be interesting to start to see this used with optogenetics.

6. Remote Vaccine Delivery via Drone
Drones are to be used to deliver vaccine-coated food pellets to remote wilderness areas in order to vaccinate ferrets against a particular disease and prevent their ongoing population decline http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2016/07/14/u_s_fish_and_wildlife_announces_plan_to_use_drones_and_candy_to_deliver.html. There are some very interesting biocontrol applications here, for example to combat invasive pest species. In related news the robust SwagBot robot has been developed to help remotely herd cattle on large Australian ranches, and might be used to monitor animal health and take samples as needed http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/industrial-robots/swagbot-to-herd-cattle-on-australian-ranches. The group are next looking to develop and test more autonomous versions.

7. Early Alzheimer’s Detection via Retina
It appears as though the brain and retina undergo similar changes during the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but the retina is easily accessible to observation whereas the brain is not - simply by examining the retina (in mice and humans) signs of Alzheimer’s can be detected before the onset of symptoms http://www.kurzweilai.net/how-to-detect-early-signs-of-alzheimers-with-a-simple-eye-exam-before-symptoms-appear. In related news we have yet another experimental Alzheimer’s vaccine showing promise http://blogs.flinders.edu.au/flinders-news/2016/07/13/progress-in-worlds-first-alzheimers-vaccine/.

8. Cell Division Differential in Damage Inheritance
An interesting study suggests that cells in both unicellular and multicellular organisms can, in certain circumstances, undergo differential or asymmetric cell division that results in most and sometimes all of the mutations and damage being inherited by only one of the two daughter cells https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/07/studying-bacteria-provides-insight-into-the-origins-of-aging/. In this way only one line of cells accumulates increasing damage with time - aging damage - and there is a population of cells that manages to remain youthful for arbitrary lengths of time, especially during times of stress. While a single cell cannot overcome the accumulation of damage, a group or colony of cells can do so together over time. I wonder if this might be adapted to some sort of anti-aging therapy.

9. How Bacteria Get Into Your Brainstem
In possibly the most terrifying news of the week, a type of bacteria that lives in soil has been found - via an innocuous sniff of the nose - to pass the olfactory mucosa and travel to the central nervous system via the trigeminal nerve https://app.secure.griffith.edu.au/news/2016/07/08/deadly-soil-bug-can-reach-the-brain-in-a-day/. From this route the bugs were found in the brainstem and spinal cord; they can cause the potentially fatal disease meliodosis, which can be fatal 50% of the time if it infects the brain. The finding is important as (i) other bacteria are believed to use the same mechanism, (ii) this might now be used to develop treatments and interventions for diseases and persistent pain disorders, and (iii) these are a possible bioweapon. Although I’ll speculate that engineered bacteria might instead be used as therapeutic or enhancement agents via this route.

10. Molecular Electronics Innovations
There were a few interesting molecular electronics items to cover this week. First, functional atomically thin transistors and circuits can be created out of a precise composite of graphene and molybdenum disulfide http://newscenter.lbl.gov/2016/07/11/atomically-thin-transistors/. Second, standard MIMO protocols can be used to boost communications using molecules instead of radio waves http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/telecom/wireless/for-best-results-send-molecular-messages-through-mimo. Third, single molecule switches can now be reliably operated via mechanochemistry https://news.liverpool.ac.uk/2016/07/05/chemists-show-new-way-operate-single-molecular-switch/.

SciTech Tip Jar: http://www.scitechdigest.net/p/donate.html___

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2016-07-16 13:29:11 (7 comments; 7 reshares; 44 +1s; )Open 

Thermalisation Connects Classical Chaos with Quantum Entanglement

An interesting recent experiment with three entangled qubits involved manipulating the system with electronic pulses to map the entanglement entropy of the qubits over time: Left panel on image. It turns out that these regions of entanglement strongly resemble regions of chaos in a classical system: Right panel on image.

The connection between the two appears to be a process of thermalisation, in which a system seeks to maximise entropy by a process of reaching thermal equilibrium through mutual interaction, but in this case the group admits that the observation of this connection is a surprising and unexpected result.

Original release: http://www.news.ucsb.edu/2016/017014/entanglement-chaos

Paper: http://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nphys3830.html
... more »

Thermalisation Connects Classical Chaos with Quantum Entanglement

An interesting recent experiment with three entangled qubits involved manipulating the system with electronic pulses to map the entanglement entropy of the qubits over time: Left panel on image. It turns out that these regions of entanglement strongly resemble regions of chaos in a classical system: Right panel on image.

The connection between the two appears to be a process of thermalisation, in which a system seeks to maximise entropy by a process of reaching thermal equilibrium through mutual interaction, but in this case the group admits that the observation of this connection is a surprising and unexpected result.

Original release: http://www.news.ucsb.edu/2016/017014/entanglement-chaos

Paper: http://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nphys3830.html

Thermalisation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermalisation ___

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2016-07-16 10:38:13 (10 comments; 5 reshares; 47 +1s; )Open 

A Flip in Perspective

I can recall definite periods in which I have changed my mind on some fundamental concept, on some basic belief. For major shifts this takes time and involves a cascade beginning with an updating of one's worldview, subsequently necessitating a revision of beliefs, a consolidation of altered values, and finally an expression of new behaviours to continue to challenge and be challenged by the world.

It is in a way thrilling to watch this unfold in real time, almost from a third-person perspective, faintly viewing distant causal effects leading up to the change, pondering subtle shifts in identity and abandoning some thing formerly held dear or taken for granted.

I like Seth's recent blog post on this Flip in perspective, in which he observes:

The flip isn't something that happens at the first glance or encounter with new... more »

A Flip in Perspective

I can recall definite periods in which I have changed my mind on some fundamental concept, on some basic belief. For major shifts this takes time and involves a cascade beginning with an updating of one's worldview, subsequently necessitating a revision of beliefs, a consolidation of altered values, and finally an expression of new behaviours to continue to challenge and be challenged by the world.

It is in a way thrilling to watch this unfold in real time, almost from a third-person perspective, faintly viewing distant causal effects leading up to the change, pondering subtle shifts in identity and abandoning some thing formerly held dear or taken for granted.

I like Seth's recent blog post on this Flip in perspective, in which he observes:

The flip isn't something that happens at the first glance or encounter with new evidence. This doesn't mean the evidence doesn't matter. It means that we're bad at admitting we were wrong. Bad at giving up one view of the world to embrace the other. Mostly, we're bad at abandoning our peers, our habits and our view of ourselves. If you want to change people's minds, you need more than evidence. You need persistence. And empathy. And mostly, you need the resources to keep showing up, peeling off one person after another, surrounding a cultural problem with a cultural solution.

See: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/07/the-flip-is-elusive.html ___

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2016-07-16 05:23:31 (6 comments; 16 reshares; 64 +1s; )Open 

Microscopic Pacman

Here's a cool video of a microscopic version of Pacman: the entire maze is 1mm wide and different microorganisms are standing in for Pacman and the ghosts - you don't really get to see any consumption / engulfing unfortunately but still a nicely executed concept. Original video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVxNvWCTbYo


Microscopic Pacman

Here's a cool video of a microscopic version of Pacman: the entire maze is 1mm wide and different microorganisms are standing in for Pacman and the ghosts - you don't really get to see any consumption / engulfing unfortunately but still a nicely executed concept. Original video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVxNvWCTbYo
___

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2016-07-10 06:01:54 (6 comments; 21 reshares; 71 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 28/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/07/programmable-rna-vaccines-high-res-rna.html

Programmable RNA vaccines, High-res RNA mapping, Robot pick-and-grasp, The six story arcs, Printing electronics, Cyborg insect sensors, Sensitive gravity sensors, Big data cancer, Regenerative tooth fillings, In-ear EEG.

1. Programmable RNA Vaccines
Effective RNA vaccines are now being made from messenger RNA molecules that are packaged into dendrimer nanoparticles measuring 150nm that are able to enter cells after being injected into the body http://news.mit.edu/2016/programmable-rna-vaccines-0704. Once in the cell the mRNA is delivered and translated into specific protein antigens that drive both T-cell and antibody immune responses. Tests in mice demonstrated effective immunity to ebola, influenza, and... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 28/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/07/programmable-rna-vaccines-high-res-rna.html

Programmable RNA vaccines, High-res RNA mapping, Robot pick-and-grasp, The six story arcs, Printing electronics, Cyborg insect sensors, Sensitive gravity sensors, Big data cancer, Regenerative tooth fillings, In-ear EEG.

1. Programmable RNA Vaccines
Effective RNA vaccines are now being made from messenger RNA molecules that are packaged into dendrimer nanoparticles measuring 150nm that are able to enter cells after being injected into the body http://news.mit.edu/2016/programmable-rna-vaccines-0704. Once in the cell the mRNA is delivered and translated into specific protein antigens that drive both T-cell and antibody immune responses. Tests in mice demonstrated effective immunity to ebola, influenza, and toxoplasma. This platform might tackle a huge range of infectious diseases and is also being used to develop destructive cell therapies such as cancer vaccines and removing other unwanted cells.

2. Mapping RNAs in Whole Tissues
Meanwhile, expansion microscopy - new technique covered last year - has improved and can now be used to precisely map the location and distribution of RNA molecules throughout a cell in whole tissues http://news.mit.edu/2016/rna-nanoscale-brain-0704. Different RNAs can be tagged to distinguish their identity and questions about the transport of RNAs and their storage throughout the cell - such as in neurons responding to signalling and memory formation - can now be better answered, as well as differentiating between different cell types and healthy vs unhealthy cells and the effects they have on gene transcription and their environment.

3. Robotic Picking is Getting Very Good
Team Delft won Amazon’s latest Picking Challenge, designed to award prizes to the best performing robots able to pick things off shelves and put them into boxes, which will ultimately allow the company to significantly reduce its warehouse human work force http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/industrial-robots/team-delft-wins-amazon-picking-challenge. Robots had to master Stow and Pick tasks with complex environments, occluded target items, and items demanding different grasping techniques. The winner currently performs at 25% of the output of a human and with a 16% error rate. Far more teams than predicted passed the minimum performance threshold suggesting that the rate of improvement in this area is picking up (sic).

4. Data Mining Reveals the Six Story Arcs
Data mining techniques and sentiment analysis on 1,700 stories have revealed a set of six core trajectories that form the building blocks of complex narratives in our stories https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601848/data-mining-novels-reveals-the-six-basic-emotional-arcs-of-storytelling/. In summary these are: rags-to-riches rise, tragedy decline, fall then rise, rise then fall, rise-fall-rise, and fall-rise-fall. Further, the most popular stories follow more complex arcs that use the basic building blocks in sequence. This provides some insight into human psychology and might also help build future novel storytelling systems and coaches.

5. Printing Electronics & Sensors
New inks and materials can be loaded into conventional inkjet printers to enable simple and quick printing of flexible electronic circuits, batteries, and supercapacitors in arbitrary designs https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601800/hacking-a-desktop-printer-to-make-batteries-and-circuits/. In one demonstration a printed label attaches to a coffee mug and depending on the temperature activates a blue light if cold and a red light if hot. Meanwhile laser printers can be used to form patterns on cellulose paper that act as cheap and convenient supports for further biochemical functionalisation, which was demonstrated via simple biosensors http://phys.org/news/2016-07-laser-printed-patterns-cellulose-paper-biochemical.html.

6. Distributed Cyborg Insect Sensors
A new cyborg insect platform based on locusts is being developed that co-opts insect olfaction, trains insects to seek out specific scents, functionalises insects with materials that collect specific molecules and others that can impart limited remote control, and finally equips the insects with electronics for monitoring brain signals https://source.wustl.edu/2016/06/engineers-use-cyborg-insects-biorobotic-sensing-machines/. In the first instance the group hopes to create and demonstrate the system in explosives detection applications.

7. Very Sensitive Gravity Detectors
A new gravity sensor, or gravity gradiometer, developed by Lockheed Martin is 20 times as sensitive and provides 10 times greater bandwidth than existing systems http://www.worldoil.com/news/2016/7/6/neos-lockheed-martin-develop-new-sensor-to-seek-out-oil-gas. Applications include resource exploration via gravity-mapping fly-overs of areas to look for interesting geological formations that indicate minerals and other resources buried beneath the ground; the sensor is apparently capable of finding a truck full of gold 20m underground.

8. Big Data Cancer Characterisation
The latest big data analysis of cancer successfully catalogued 1,000 different types of tumours, their alterations, and susceptibility to a range of different cancer drugs http://www.idibell.cat/modul/noticies/en/906/a-big-data-approach-to-developing-cancer-drugs. The 1,000 tumours came from 29 different cell lines from different organs and produced a precise map of both genetic and epigenetic modifications and differences, screened each against 265 different antitumour drugs, and then validated the results against 11,000 additional tumour samples. This amazing resource has been made available via open access and once personalise genome (and tumour) sequencing gets underway will become ever more useful to patients for personalised medicine applications.

9. Regenerative Tooth Fillings
A new dental filling material is made from a type of biomaterial that, when placed into a prepared cavity and hardened with UV light like a conventional filling, subsequently works to stimulate local populations of stem cells in the pulp of the tooth http://www.popsci.com.au/science/medicine/the-end-of-root-canals-,430104. In tests the stem cells proliferated and differentiated into dentin, helping to actually heal the damage caused by tooth decay and cavity preparation. Such a material would not only drastically lower the rate of filling failures but possibly prevent root canals too.

10. Ear-Based Brain EEG Recordings
New in-ear earbud-based EEG sensors have been developed that can sit in the user’s ear and accurately pick up EEG signals from the brain for transmission to a device http://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/in-ear-eeg-makes-unobtrusive-brain-hacking-gadgets-a-real-possibility. EEG signals are typically difficult to distinguish but in testing the device the group tested a range of mental states that produced the most clearly distinguishable signals and then used these two states as a binary choice to control some particular computing device function. An in-ear device is discrete and would allow continuous monitoring including sleep and disease states.

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2016-07-09 05:00:58 (6 comments; 10 reshares; 37 +1s; )Open 

List of Google Voice Commands

ok-google.io is a slick website (mobile or desktop) with a growing list of voice commands you can speak to Google / your phone for which Google Now will initiate some action or answer some inquiry. Worth bookmarking and checking out for reference, as a reminder of the very many different things you can now accomplish just by speaking to your phone. 

List of Google Voice Commands

ok-google.io is a slick website (mobile or desktop) with a growing list of voice commands you can speak to Google / your phone for which Google Now will initiate some action or answer some inquiry. Worth bookmarking and checking out for reference, as a reminder of the very many different things you can now accomplish just by speaking to your phone. ___

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2016-07-07 14:14:52 (5 comments; 1 reshares; 15 +1s; )Open 

Recent SynBio Keynote by Andrew Hessel

I've been a fan of Andrew Hessel for a long time and this is a good, accessible talk on the very latest in synthetic biology and genome sequencing, synthesising, and viral engineering. Easy to watch or listen to at 1.5x speed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbPeXwBAbgM

Recent SynBio Keynote by Andrew Hessel

I've been a fan of Andrew Hessel for a long time and this is a good, accessible talk on the very latest in synthetic biology and genome sequencing, synthesising, and viral engineering. Easy to watch or listen to at 1.5x speed.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbPeXwBAbgM___

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2016-07-06 15:14:50 (22 comments; 9 reshares; 33 +1s; )Open 

Offsetting Technological Deflation with Quantitative Easing Stipends for all Individuals

Kartik Gada has produced a very interesting ebook that I've just finished reading and would recommend to anyone with interests in accelerating technology, futurism, and solving the paradox of capitalism. The book, The Accelerating TechnOnomic Medium can be found here http://atom.singularity2050.com/

I've subscribed to and been a fan of his The Futurist blog at http://singularity2050.com/ for 10 or so years now and enjoyed the very rare but thorough posts. He approaches technology and futurism from a professional economics and finance background and so brings a level of financial and economic rigor to futurist and economic discussions that I don't often see.

Basically, this book is a proposal and policy recommendation for dealing with technological unemployment and... more »

Offsetting Technological Deflation with Quantitative Easing Stipends for all Individuals

Kartik Gada has produced a very interesting ebook that I've just finished reading and would recommend to anyone with interests in accelerating technology, futurism, and solving the paradox of capitalism. The book, The Accelerating TechnOnomic Medium can be found here http://atom.singularity2050.com/

I've subscribed to and been a fan of his The Futurist blog at http://singularity2050.com/ for 10 or so years now and enjoyed the very rare but thorough posts. He approaches technology and futurism from a professional economics and finance background and so brings a level of financial and economic rigor to futurist and economic discussions that I don't often see.

Basically, this book is a proposal and policy recommendation for dealing with technological unemployment and economic slowdown . . . by balancing technological deflation with a perpetual and ever-growing quantitative easing program in which central banks create money . . . and provide this money not to the big banks via asset purchases but rather to each individual citizen as a regular stipend . . . and gradually accelerating the velocity of money in the economy and abolishing individual income taxes in the process.

This superficially resembles a universal basic income but with quite important differences. The ebook FAQ page covers some basics http://atom.singularity2050.com/faqs.html. Decentralisation purists will have a problem with proposed dependency on central banks but perhaps there are alterations or improvements that are possible and acceptable.

The phenomenon of technological deflation in the economy is slowly gaining increasing awareness and recognition beyond futurists and niche economists, as can be seen for example in this short interview on Bloomberg http://www.bloomberg.com/live/us.

The ATOM proposal notes that continual quantitative easing (current QE3) has failed to raise inflation and has failed to devalue the currency, and it posits that the main reason for this is that accelerating technology has finally reached the point that it is now powering technological deflation to such an extent that it is simply eating this stimulus. Stopping QE is no longer an option.

I remember a discussion with +Mark Lewis a couple of years ago about trying to come up with novel UBI proposals and this definitely fits that category. It'd also be interesting to see if +Kevin Kelly had any thoughts on the proposal. To everyone who made it this far: what do you think of the proposal? ___

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2016-07-03 14:30:45 (3 comments; 21 reshares; 67 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 27/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/07/pear-shaped-nuclei-laser-atom-lattices.html

Pear shaped nuclei, Geoscience for Helium, Laser atom lattices, CRISPR antivirals, Injectable micro camera, Carbon nanotube computing, Engineered probiotics, Immunotherapies vs autoimmunity, Controlled supercavitation, Engineered neurotransmitter receptors.

1. Pear Shaped Nuclei
Building on work in 2013 that found the first pear-shaped atomic nuclei in the form of Radium-224, the second pear-shaped atomic nucleus has been confirmed in the form of Barium-144 http://futurism.com/new-form-of-atomic-nuclei-just-confirmed-and-it-suggests-time-travel-is-impossible/. The interest here is the possibility of insights into new physics as pear-shaped nuclei break conventionally accepted symmetries with more charge and mass... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 27/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/07/pear-shaped-nuclei-laser-atom-lattices.html

Pear shaped nuclei, Geoscience for Helium, Laser atom lattices, CRISPR antivirals, Injectable micro camera, Carbon nanotube computing, Engineered probiotics, Immunotherapies vs autoimmunity, Controlled supercavitation, Engineered neurotransmitter receptors.

1. Pear Shaped Nuclei
Building on work in 2013 that found the first pear-shaped atomic nuclei in the form of Radium-224, the second pear-shaped atomic nucleus has been confirmed in the form of Barium-144 http://futurism.com/new-form-of-atomic-nuclei-just-confirmed-and-it-suggests-time-travel-is-impossible/. The interest here is the possibility of insights into new physics as pear-shaped nuclei break conventionally accepted symmetries with more charge and mass being present on some side of the nucleus than the other and exhibiting octupole properties. Personally I wouldn’t read too much into the speculative anti-time travel commentary associated with this.

2. Better Geoscience for Helium Discoveries
For the first time a huge geological deposit of Helium has been found deliberately rather than by accident http://www.livescience.com/55204-huge-cache-of-ancient-helium-discovered.html. This resulted from better models concerning the role of volcanic heat in producing pockets of Helium gas in the Earth’s crust. Helium is in limited supply and due to its nature is lost to the atmosphere and into space once used. As such the Helium deposit represents a significant find amounting to, by some estimates, an additional 30% of previously known global reserves.

3. Isolating Atoms with Lasers
An array of lasers can be used to produce a 3d lattice of precisely positioned individual atoms on five planes of 25 atoms each http://science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2016-news/Weiss6-2016. Two other crossed-laser beams can then target individual atoms and alter their energy levels and in this was used to produce an array of quantum superpositions using the atoms in the array as qubits, with the nature of the control demonstrated by writing precise patterns as desired. In related news third generation laser Uranium enrichment technology is five times more energy efficient and compact than the best centrifuges http://nextbigfuture.com/2016/06/third-generation-laser-uranium.html.

4. CRISPR for Gene Silencing & Antivirals
First, CRISPR has been modified yet again, this time with a methylation-cleaving subunit that allows the system to target and cut out methylated (silenced) promoters of genes, and replace them with un-methylated promoters to activate the genes https://www.oia.hokudai.ac.jp/blog/unsilencing-silenced-genes-by-crisprcas9/. Second, I’ve been thinking about CRISPR to target viruses for years because I get cold sores and it seems that this is now underway with successful CRISPR tests for targeting, cutting, and inactivating the latent code for viruses that have incorporated into cellular DNA https://www.newscientist.com/article/2095716-gene-editing-could-destroy-herpes-viruses-living-inside-you/. Finally, we’ll probably see the first CRISPR-based human clinical trial begin later this year http://www.nature.com/news/first-crispr-clinical-trial-gets-green-light-from-us-panel-1.20137.

5. Injectable Micro-Camera
A new micro-lens has been developed by 3D printing tiny compound lenses measuring just 120 microns wide including the casing http://phys.org/news/2016-06-micro-camera-syringe.html. Such a lens can focus on objects 3mm away, can be fabricated on conventional CMOS image sensors or optical fibers, and which might then be delivered into the body via a simple injection for example, or otherwise power discrete imaging sensors in the environment.

6. Carbon Nanotube Computing
Spectrum has another good technology overview article, this time on the present state of the art in using carbon nanotubes in computing applications http://spectrum.ieee.org/semiconductors/devices/how-well-put-a-carbon-nanotube-computer-in-your-hand. There already exist fabrication and design techniques, compatible with conventional semiconductor fabs, for building and scaling carbon nanotube circuits on silicon. Key discoveries have solved the two biggest hurdles of such circuits, (i) creating ordered parallel arrays of tubes that don’t overlap, and (ii) clever techniques to selectively remove metallic tubes to leave only semiconducting tubes. Obtaining a 100x to 1,000x improvement in energy efficiency with such chips should be possible in future.

7. Towards Engineered Probiotics
The case and benefits for engineering and delivering novel probiotic bacteria to directly treat various diseases keeps getting stronger. First, strong correlations have been discovered between abnormal bacterial microbiome in the gut and chronic fatigue syndrome, with the possibility of fixing or engineering these patients’ microbiomes resulting in a cure for the disease http://www.deepstuff.org/chronic-fatigue-syndrome-gut-not-head/. Meanwhile a growing number of companies are developing probiotic treatments-in-a-pill designed to target and treat a range of disease, with many products currently in extended human clinical trials under FDA oversight http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-30/coming-soon-gut-bacteria-that-actually-cure-your-disease.

8. Killing Specific Immune Cells for Autoimmunity
Building on promising experimental immunotherapies for targeting immune cell cancers, a new approach instead manages to create an immunotherapy to target the specific subset of B-cells responsible for certain autoimmunity disorders https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/07/chimeric-antigen-receptor-strategies-can-be-used-to-target-and-destroy-specific-classes-of-unwanted-immune-cell/. This involves obtaining T-cells from the patient and engineered with a gene that makes them specifically only attach to and destroy those B-cells that produce the antibody responsible for the autoimmune disease. This is great news for a plethora of debilitating diseases such as arthritis, but also for culling and rejuvenating the entire immune system itself back to more youthful levels of effectiveness.

9. Controlled Supercavitation for Underwater Transport
New work on supercavitation shows promise for controlling the instabilities that occur when producing confined air bubbles around underwater vehicles to reduce the drag and friction of water in order to significantly increase the speed of travel underwater http://news.psu.edu/story/414720/2016/06/16/research/innovative-approach-makes-smoother-ride. Such systems might allow much faster underwater travel by submarines, torpedos, and other submersibles.

10. Engineering Controllable Neurotransmitter Receptors
Neurotransmitter receptor proteins found on neurons are now being engineered to be controllably activated and deactivated at will http://www.kyoto-u.ac.jp/en/research/research_results/2016/160628_1.html. Such a tool allows neurons to be genetically altered so that the neurotransmitter receptors they produce can be switched on and off with the addition of specific ligands, and so allowing them to respond, or not, to the conventional neurotransmitters that neurons use for signalling. I do wonder how useful this might be in a living system, as the brain and neurons adapt to normal firing and connection strengths being interfered with.

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2016-06-30 14:44:17 (5 comments; 11 reshares; 45 +1s; )Open 

New Art

Probably the most enchanting new type of hybrid art I've seen in a long time. Modular: precise rotation + precise structure + precise light. All made possible with 3D printing and computational design, and emerging from memetic recombination of the concept of a zoetrope + the concept of . . . a closed time-like loop of a piece of block Universe*

The arrival of Mozart was impossible before the invention of the piano.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growing_block_universe

New Art

Probably the most enchanting new type of hybrid art I've seen in a long time. Modular: precise rotation + precise structure + precise light. All made possible with 3D printing and computational design, and emerging from memetic recombination of the concept of a zoetrope + the concept of . . . a closed time-like loop of a piece of block Universe*

The arrival of Mozart was impossible before the invention of the piano.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growing_block_universe___

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2016-06-30 12:25:30 (10 comments; 0 reshares; 37 +1s; )Open 

Passed a personal milestone tonight: an average of 45 minutes of intense exercise, 5 days per week, for 24 of the last 26 weeks. Mostly Max:30 interval training with some light weights. Time to rest and do sweet FA for a week or more.

Passed a personal milestone tonight: an average of 45 minutes of intense exercise, 5 days per week, for 24 of the last 26 weeks. Mostly Max:30 interval training with some light weights. Time to rest and do sweet FA for a week or more.___

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2016-06-26 07:21:15 (13 comments; 28 reshares; 112 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 26/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/06/brain-scanning-boosts-deep-learning.html

Brain scanning boosts, Deep Learning advances, Robot motion planning, SpotMini robot, Nanoparticle libraries, Analogue compiler, Carbon capture, Chiral metalens, Nanocantilever magnetic actuation, Artificial kidneys.

1. Big Boosts to Brain Scanning
The Human Connectome Project has announced some of its achievements and advances to date http://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/imaging/brain-scanning-just-got-very-good-and-very-unsettling. The project has scanned the brains of well over a thousand people, developed techniques to identify an individual’s unique brain activity and identify them with 99% accuracy, predict how people will perform on an intelligence test, and during memory or reading tasks. BigD... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 26/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/06/brain-scanning-boosts-deep-learning.html

Brain scanning boosts, Deep Learning advances, Robot motion planning, SpotMini robot, Nanoparticle libraries, Analogue compiler, Carbon capture, Chiral metalens, Nanocantilever magnetic actuation, Artificial kidneys.

1. Big Boosts to Brain Scanning
The Human Connectome Project has announced some of its achievements and advances to date http://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/imaging/brain-scanning-just-got-very-good-and-very-unsettling. The project has scanned the brains of well over a thousand people, developed techniques to identify an individual’s unique brain activity and identify them with 99% accuracy, predict how people will perform on an intelligence test, and during memory or reading tasks. Big Data and numerous software innovations have also resulted. Hardware wise big advances have been made with MRI machines: acquiring high-res 3D scans of a brain used to take 24 hours, but now takes under an hour and with ten times the resolution. Meanwhile brain volume and energy markers have been linked to quantitative reasoning ability and verbal/spatial intelligence respectively https://illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/375272.

2. More Big Steps in Deep Learning
First, Baidu achieves a 30x efficiency gain in GPUs running Deep Learning algorithms http://nextbigfuture.com/2016/06/baidu-improves-efficiency-by-30-times.html. Second, Deep Learning algorithms can now understand or extract summaries of articles with 70% accuracy https://www.newscientist.com/article/2094385-ai-just-got-a-big-boost-in-its-ability-to-understand-the-news/. Third, Deep Learning algorithms are producing impressive results with quite small datasets, for example quickly learning to automate boring tasks such as cell recognition with minimal effort http://www.cosmonio.com/blog/2016/06/20/deep-learning-with-small-data/.

3. Robot Motion Planning Speedup
A new custom processor has been developed specifically for the task of collision checking for robot motion planning, and which is able to speed the process up by three orders of magnitude while using 20 times less power http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-software/custom-processor-speeds-up-robot-motion-planning-by-factor-of-1000. This allows real time millisecond motion planning, and all via an appropriately configured FPGA that allows dedicated circuits to operate simultaneously. The main limitations are that a new FPGA configuration is needed for each new physical setup of a robot.

4. SpotMini from Boston Dynamics
Boston Dynamics has released a new, smaller version of their quadruped robot platform called SpotMini that comes complete with a vision-powered arm and gripper that looks like a head on a long neck http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/home-robots/boston-dynamics-spotmini. SpotMini appears to be fully electric, nimble, adaptable to the outdoors, obstacles, stairs, recovery from loss of footing, and being fitted out with different sensors and arms as needed. Short demonstrations show it picking up a glass to load into a dishwasher and grabbing a tin can to throw in the bin. The “slip mishap” is particularly entertaining to watch.

5. Nanoparticle Libraries on Chips
Taking inspiration from gene chips a new nanoparticle discovery tool on a type of chip enables rapid screening of many millions of different nanoparticles in order to optimally select the best candidate or a particular purpose http://www.mccormick.northwestern.edu/news/articles/2016/06/nanoscientists-develop-the-ultimate-discovery-tool.html. The technique produces combinatorial libraries of nanoparticles with different compositions using dip-pen nanolithography. Variability currently comes from Au, Ag, Co, Cu, Ni elements as well as size from 1nm to 100nm - many more elements and structural variations might be added in future to significantly expand these libraries and explore the vast possible space of nanostructures for useful applications.

6. Analogue Computing Compiler
A new analogue computing compiler has been demonstrated for taking high-level instructions and producing low-level specifications to program the circuit connections in an analogue computer http://news.mit.edu/2016/analog-computing-organs-organisms-0620. Example applications in which analogue systems outperform digital systems include biological simulations but analogue programming has previously been time consuming, especially for large simulations. With a small number of transistors these analogue circuits are solving complicated differential equations that would otherwise take millions of digital transistors millions of clock cycles.

7. Atmospheric Carbon Capture
CarbFix is a new technique for effectively capturing carbon by burying it with basalt rock, the elements of which effectively react with the carbon dioxide and turn it into rock-like minerals such as calcite http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21700371-how-keep-waste-carbon-dioxide-ground-turning-air-stone. In tests it took 2 years for 95% of the injected carbon dioxide to be mineralised. Meanwhile, the latest work on efforts from last year to convert the carbon dioxide from power plants into carbon nanotubes suggests that the approach could be quite economical http://phys.org/news/2016-06-power-co2-emissions-carbon-nanotubes.html.

8. Metalens Can Resolve Molecular Chirality
An ultra-compact flat metalens can capture both the spectral information and distinguish the molecular chirality of a material at the same time https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2016/06/ultrathin-flat-lens-resolves-chirality-and-color. This is powered by two arrays of titanium oxide nanofins, which work to produce two separate images of the same object comprising left-circularly polarised and right-circularly polarised light respectively. At just 3mm wide it can be incorporated into conventional portable camera systems for sensing and diagnostic applications.

9. Nanoscale Remote Actuation
A new nanoscale engineering approach has developed a magnetomechanic alternative to MEMS and NEMS that involves controlling nanoactuation via applied magnetic fields http://www.nanogune.eu/newsroom/remote-control-actuation-goes-down-nanoscale. A 3D nano-assembly process creates a nanoscale cantilever that can be moved with nanometer precision and remotely controlled via an applied magnetic field. One of the key benefits here is that no physical contact is needed for control and such cantilevers might be fixed to surfaces or particles suspended in fluid and even introduced into the body to perform some pre-configured task; nanoscale cantilevers might ratchet nanoscale gears for example.

10. Three Artificial Kidney Platforms
Three different artificial kidney platforms are currently under development to help people better deal with kidney failure and dialysis http://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/3-ways-to-build-an-artificial-kidney. First, the Wearable Artificial Kidney, a prototype belt device with filters, fluids and pumps that is worn by a patient and continuously cleans the blood; during a 24-hour test with patients it worked as well as a conventional dialysis machine but suffered a number of technical problems. Second, an implantable bioartificial kidney that uses a silicon membrane with nanopores to filter blood and a bioreactor with live kidney cells to perform various metabolic and endocrine functions. Finally, Qidni Labs is also building an implantable artificial kidney that uses a nanofiltration system to mimic kidney function.

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2016-06-23 11:28:48 (31 comments; 5 reshares; 33 +1s; )Open 

Autonomous Military Drones

Nice share by +Jesse Powell who highlighted one of the key quotes: Either the USAF has a secret UCAV capability, but only in relatively tiny numbers, which handicaps many of the concept's innate advantages, or the alternative is even worse; the USAF has not pursued the technology to any significant degree at all.

http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/3889/the-alarming-case-of-the-usafs-mysteriously-missing-unmanned-combat-air-vehicles

This lengthy article about the history, current state, future possibilities, and unmatched battlefield capabilities of swarms of autonomous military drones is fascinating. Leading on from the above quote it is interesting to consider that cultural factors - and even hubris - might well prevent a military organisation from pursing genuine strength and superiority (and the benefits this brings) at all costs.... more »

A long but important read on UCAVs.

Either the USAF has a secret UCAV capability, but only in relatively tiny numbers, which handicaps many of the concept’s innate advantages, or the alternative is even worse; the USAF has not pursued the technology to any significant degree at all.___Autonomous Military Drones

Nice share by +Jesse Powell who highlighted one of the key quotes: Either the USAF has a secret UCAV capability, but only in relatively tiny numbers, which handicaps many of the concept's innate advantages, or the alternative is even worse; the USAF has not pursued the technology to any significant degree at all.

http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/3889/the-alarming-case-of-the-usafs-mysteriously-missing-unmanned-combat-air-vehicles

This lengthy article about the history, current state, future possibilities, and unmatched battlefield capabilities of swarms of autonomous military drones is fascinating. Leading on from the above quote it is interesting to consider that cultural factors - and even hubris - might well prevent a military organisation from pursing genuine strength and superiority (and the benefits this brings) at all costs.

This reminds me of the initial and ongoing debate concerning whether autonomous robotic weapon systems should be allowed. Reading this article it is made blatantly obvious just how powerful and superior such weapon systems have the possibility of becoming. Absent an enforceable global ban (a fantasy) then some actor can be expected to develop such capability. This dictates you must also develop the same or better capability.

Other Recent Developments in this Space:

The U.S. Navy’s Big Mistake — Building Tons of Supercarriers
https://warisboring.com/the-u-s-navy-s-big-mistake-building-tons-of-supercarriers-79cb42029b8#.bfdbuix48
Makes a compelling case for the obsolescence of the Navy's aircraft carriers and also touches on the above autonomous military fighters that the Navy has considered and that many of you will be aware of. The article is as good as the main one above and covers the history, development, and outrageous costs associated with maintaining a Supercarrier group hosting outrageously costly (and obsolete?) Joint Strike Fighters.

DARPA is BIG on this space of course
DARPA has advanced programs for Vertical Take-Off and Landing autonomous drones http://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2015-12-28, and their Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) program relies heavily on autonomous flight capabilities and coordination as per here http://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2016-06-03 and here http://www.darpa.mil/program/collaborative-operations-in-denied-environment.

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2016-06-19 07:36:50 (11 comments; 26 reshares; 73 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 25/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/06/nanostructured-dna-frameworks-brain.html

Nanostructured DNA frameworks, Machine learning, Brain structure insights, Improving gene drives, Wondrous graphene, Metagenomic analysis, Ultrasound BBB, Terahertz microlasers, Invisible sensors, Boosting stem cells.

1. DNA Framework for Nanostructures
DNA origami techniques are being used to form precisely structured, self-assembled nanoparticle lattices with custom architectures https://www.bnl.gov/newsroom/news.php?a=11846. The technique is based on forming modular lego-brick-like frames made of DNA that bind nanoparticles in the center of the frame and then link to other frames in precise orientations and positions, allowing custom 3D lattices to be formed as desired. There are very interesting possibilities... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 25/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/06/nanostructured-dna-frameworks-brain.html

Nanostructured DNA frameworks, Machine learning, Brain structure insights, Improving gene drives, Wondrous graphene, Metagenomic analysis, Ultrasound BBB, Terahertz microlasers, Invisible sensors, Boosting stem cells.

1. DNA Framework for Nanostructures
DNA origami techniques are being used to form precisely structured, self-assembled nanoparticle lattices with custom architectures https://www.bnl.gov/newsroom/news.php?a=11846. The technique is based on forming modular lego-brick-like frames made of DNA that bind nanoparticles in the center of the frame and then link to other frames in precise orientations and positions, allowing custom 3D lattices to be formed as desired. There are very interesting possibilities here in forming interesting materials for optics (metamaterials), electronics, and other applications. In related news, precise modular molecular construction is becoming ever more sophisticated http://www.oist.jp/news-center/news/2016/6/10/new-ukidama-nanoparticle-structure-revealed and http://science.energy.gov/bes/highlights/2016/bes-2016-06-w/.

2. Machine Learning Advances
An interesting trio of machine learning applications this week. First, we have the demonstration of a system able to take a rough sketch (of a face for example) and generate a photo-realistic image as an output https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601684/machine-vision-algorithm-learns-to-transform-hand-drawn-sketches-into-photorealistic-images/. Second, a dashcam app for cars that tracks other cars on the roads, rates their driving, and warns users of dangerous or erratic drivers when nearby and which has interesting insurance and other implications http://spectrum.ieee.org/cars-that-think/transportation/sensors/the-ai-dashcam-app-that-wants-to-rate-every-driver-in-the-world. Finally, a system that can perform accurate eye-tracking using just a smartphone camera and which should open up eye-tracking tools and applications for developers generally http://news.mit.edu/2016/eye-tracking-system-uses-ordinary-cellphone-camera-0616.

3. Brain Structure Insights
A work shows why hierarchical networks appear so often in biology and particularly govern neurons in the brain http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-06/p-rsw060716.php. Hierarchical networks contain fewer connections and the connections themselves - synapses in the case of the brain - are biologically expensive to build and maintain and so are ultimately driven by energy optimisation concerns. Such insights are expected to feed into designing better artificial neural networks. In related news birds turn out to have a much higher density of neurons in their brains, particularly the forebrain, compared to other animals including primates and in some cases match or exceed primate neuron counts, which helps to explain the intelligence exhibited by some bird species http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2016/06/study-gives-new-meaning-to-the-term-bird-brain/.

4. Improving the Effectiveness of Gene Drives
It turns out the current gene drive technology, of ensuring that particular genes are carried throughout a population over many successive generations, and offering the possibility of wiping out traits or whole species, are imperfect and suffer from the evolution of resistance to their effects. Second and third generation gene drive technology is under development however that is far more sophisticated and designed to avoid this evolution of resistance and ensure traits are passed down or local populations of species wiped out regardless of attempts to evolve resistance https://www.newscientist.com/article/2093212-souped-up-gene-drives-may-help-eliminate-pests-and-diseases/.

5. Never Ending Graphene Wonders
First, graphene is being used to produce and control a form of Cerenkov Radiation, in which light hitting the graphene surface is slowed to a point at which electrons travelling along the surface exceed the speed of light and produce a different burst of electromagnetic radiation http://news.mit.edu/2016/new-way-turn-electricity-light-using-graphene-0613. Second, tiny graphene “drums” beating at 100Mhz might be used as highly sensitive mass detectors http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-06/tiof-dbf061416.php. Third, graphene nanoribbons can now be fabricated wafer-scale in suspended non-contact structures http://www.tohoku.ac.jp/en/press/shaping_atomically_thin_materials.html. Finally, another straintronics approach, squeezing graphene can control heat conduction through the material http://www.research.a-star.edu.sg/research/7519/graphene-based-thermal-modulators.

6. Metagenomic Cross Genome Analysis
A metagenome is the total DNA content from many different microorganisms that inhabit the same environment, for example in the human gut. MetaFast is a new piece of software developed to quickly analyse and compare different metagenomes from both similar and different environments http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-06/iu-pmw061516.php. For example, MetaFast might quickly compare the metagenomes of the gut microflora from both healthy and unhealthy patients and feed this into personalised medicine applications, or otherwise rapidly characterise a person or environment as healthy or unhealthy, even without knowing the exact identity of all of the microorganisms being considered.

7. Opening Blood Brain Barrier with Pulsed Ultrasound
In recent work the blood brain barrier can be temporarily opened by using focused pulsed ultrasound to vibrate stabilised (but short-lived) microbubbles that have been injected into the bloodstream https://www.newscientist.com/article/2093829-microbubbles-open-brains-barrier-to-make-chemo-more-effective/. One of the current drawbacks is that the ultrasound device must be placed inside the skull; however in clinical trials the technique was able to deliver five times the amount of a cancer drug into the brain to treat glioblastoma tumours than would otherwise be possible. Such a platform, with further improvements, might be widely applicable to a range of brain and CNS treatments and interventions.

8. Phase-Locked Microlaser Arrays
A single-chip monolithic array of 37 microfabricated laser antennas produces one of the most advanced terahertz light sources created http://news.mit.edu/2016/microlasers-phase-locking-arrays-0613. Each antenna is coaxed to phase-lock with its neighbours to produce a combined light source that is all in-phase, while lateral emissions are recaptured and re-emitted perpendicular to the array to form a very tight terahertz beam source with very low energy requirements. This is another important step in terahertz technology, bringing it closer to real world applications in security and medical diagnostics.

9. Sensors Invisible to Electronic Inspection
Sensors have been rendered invisible to thermal and electrical inspection with a new type of thin copper shell that mimics local thermal and electric fields, while still allowing the enclosed sensor to perform its function and receive appropriate signals from the outside http://news.nus.edu.sg/press-releases/10458-nus-engineering-team-designs-novel-multi-field-invisible-sensor. Such a technology not only has important applications in the security and surveillance space, but also for sensing systems forced to operate in high voltage or high temperature environments.

10. Replacing and Boosting Stem Cells
It appears that most current stem cell treatments don’t involve the introduced cells integrating with target tissues, but rather temporarily alter the local stem cell niche and signalling environment to spur healthy activity in surrounding cells. More recent work is starting to achieve more permanent integration however, particularly with neural stem cells in neurodegenerative disorders https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/06/replacing-neural-stem-cells-in-the-aging-hippocampus/. Also, improved techniques for reprogramming adult stem cells appear to produce cells that are indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells http://futurism.com/scientists-reprogram-adult-stem-cells-to-mimic-embryonic-stem-cells/.

SciTech Tip Jar: http://www.scitechdigest.net/p/donate.html___

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2016-06-16 14:47:29 (7 comments; 4 reshares; 61 +1s; )Open 

My PhotoSpheres Just Passed 10,000,000 Views!

I passed another +Google Maps milestone this week with my PhotoSpheres clocking up 10 million views. The previous week itself contributed over 100,000 views. My Google Maps profile with complete PhotoSphere collection is here https://www.google.com.au/maps/contrib/115624860057949518963/photos.

Clicking this link you can just scroll down and choose a scene to explore. On Mobile: should open in Maps app, an extra tap or two will open the sphere properly. On desktop: can then scroll horizontally along the media bar to choose others. You can also filter by "views" instead of "date" to see those with the most views.

The main PhotoSphere for this post shows some interesting coastal formations on a really nice day by the beach a couple of months ago. I like the scene despite my mistake while capturing the... more »

My PhotoSpheres Just Passed 10,000,000 Views!

I passed another +Google Maps milestone this week with my PhotoSpheres clocking up 10 million views. The previous week itself contributed over 100,000 views. My Google Maps profile with complete PhotoSphere collection is here https://www.google.com.au/maps/contrib/115624860057949518963/photos.

Clicking this link you can just scroll down and choose a scene to explore. On Mobile: should open in Maps app, an extra tap or two will open the sphere properly. On desktop: can then scroll horizontally along the media bar to choose others. You can also filter by "views" instead of "date" to see those with the most views.

The main PhotoSphere for this post shows some interesting coastal formations on a really nice day by the beach a couple of months ago. I like the scene despite my mistake while capturing the image leaving a tinge of red at the top from my finger.

Other recent interesting additions include (links work on desktop):
1. My city's main sports stadium, Adelaide Oval https://goo.gl/maps/aZkzrUYGU3q
2. Really nice setting sun light in beautiful Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens https://goo.gl/maps/34svvxQ1X9L2
3. Famous spot in dry lake bed along the highway to the north, https://goo.gl/maps/K8xsbNKKGBP2
4. Sun setting off Laguna Beach, CA https://goo.gl/maps/UZghU8cvk6n

If on mobile these same images are best viewed in Google Photos as follows (may need an extra tap or two):
1. https://goo.gl/photos/UDwd2EnMhJNrkQs99
2. https://goo.gl/photos/48q3zmKgTu8Eqhed7
3. https://goo.gl/photos/ZSZRAJQ7rHi74XpA7
4. https://goo.gl/photos/gEw1aRgfLk9As1on6

Minor criticism of Google Maps PhotoSphere sharing.
I obviously love PhotoSpheres. One frustration I have with sharing them, something that kinda beggars belief, is that after many years Google Maps still hasn't figured out cross-platform PhotoSphere sharing.

It is impossible to pick a PhotoSphere on mobile or desktop, click "share" and get a link that works on desktop or mobile. The Google Maps links for desktop that I shared here won't work on mobile but will rather just open my profile for scrolling the library. The Google Photos links work cross-platform. But sharing by grabbing a link from Google Streeview app on mobile . . . works on desktop (although it rotates the starting view) but perversely doesn't work on mobile. Weird. Annoying. Tonight I even had an instance of one link from one of my PhotoSpheres instead launching a random PhotoSphere of a baseball stadium in the US that was made by someone else, which is bizarre and really should never happen. Just wondering if +Evan Rapoport might be able to shed some light on this?

Edit: Aaaaand it seems even Google Plus posts now can't display PhotoSpheres natively or launch the Google Photos version from where it was shared. Hence the main PhotoSphere for this post doesn't actually launch into a PhotoSphere. Unfriggenbelievable.

Edit 2: Seems the main PhotoSphere for this post does actually work on mobile Google Plus but not desktop Google Plus. Also, seems as though the first link (this one https://goo.gl/maps/aZkzrUYGU3q) launches the correct PhotoSphere on desktop but launches the bizarre wrong - somebody elses - baseball PhotoSphere on mobile. Seriously Google, WTF!?___

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2016-06-12 08:56:09 (3 comments; 23 reshares; 62 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 24/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/06/knuedge-neural-chip-mitochondria.html

KnuEdge neural chip, Mitochondria regenerate neurons, Curing multiple sclerosis, Curing hemophilia, Preventing protein misfolding, Drones exploit wind, Modular enzyme toolkits, Tunable graphene bandgaps, Machine learning mazes, CRISPR data storage.

1. KnuEdge Launches KnuPath Chip
After raising $100m start-up chip maker KnuEdge comes out of stealth mode to launch the KnuPath neural processing chip http://venturebeat.com/2016/06/06/former-nasa-chief-unveils-100-million-neural-computing-chip-company-knuedge/. This is considered similar to IBMs efforts in the space and signal a maturing of the industry and the prospect of neural processing chips reaching wide consumer roll-out. The company also quotes a KnuVerse tool... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 24/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/06/knuedge-neural-chip-mitochondria.html

KnuEdge neural chip, Mitochondria regenerate neurons, Curing multiple sclerosis, Curing hemophilia, Preventing protein misfolding, Drones exploit wind, Modular enzyme toolkits, Tunable graphene bandgaps, Machine learning mazes, CRISPR data storage.

1. KnuEdge Launches KnuPath Chip
After raising $100m start-up chip maker KnuEdge comes out of stealth mode to launch the KnuPath neural processing chip http://venturebeat.com/2016/06/06/former-nasa-chief-unveils-100-million-neural-computing-chip-company-knuedge/. This is considered similar to IBMs efforts in the space and signal a maturing of the industry and the prospect of neural processing chips reaching wide consumer roll-out. The company also quotes a KnuVerse tool supposed to represent advanced voice recognition and authentication, and a range of SDKs and APIs for developers. The level of innovation in this space is breathtaking; our devices are on the verge of becoming much smarter.

2. Drones That Exploit Wind
Flight and route planning for drones is becoming far more sophisticated with at least one new system enabling drones to exploit wind patterns around buildings in order to reduce flight times and power consumption http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/drones/quadrotors-learning-to-surf-urban-winds. Low wind speeds don’t make much difference, but at just 10m/s over 500m the drone uses 40% less energy while travelling 10% further and 22% quicker, all of which are significant and surprising gains. The system only takes account of a fixed altitude however and so even more gains might be possible once it incorporates full 3D spatial wind volumes.

3. Modular Enzymatic Toolkits
A new synthetic biology toolkit comprises a template, modular enzyme design process that aims to link different enzymes as desired to complete the metabolic processing steps that are required to produce a desired molecule http://www.tum.de/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/short/article/33150/. One of the examples demonstrated involved the complex cancer drug taxol, the computing and modelling of all intermediate stages in the enzymatic reaction cascade, and further proposals to connect different enzyme activities together to produce predictable, novel results.

4. Mobilising Mitochondria to Regenerate Neurons
New results suggest that axonal injury renders nearby mitochondria in the neuron incapable of producing sufficient levels of ATP and in adults mitochondria have reduced motility preventing them from responding to such injury. However, by removing the protein syntaphilin from the cells mitochondrial motility is restored, allowing healthy mitochondria to replace the damaged ones, and resulting in nerves regaining the ability to regrow http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-06/rup-mmm060716.php. Adult mice were able to regenerate injured sciatic nerves in this fashion. Syntaphilin thus becomes a very interesting drug target for enhancing neuron function and regeneration.

5. Preventing Protein Misfolding
A novel method for tackling misfolded proteins has been developed that simply involves designing, and delivering appropriate RNA aptamers to where the misfolded protein is present http://mbg.au.dk/en/news-and-events/news-item/artikel/a-new-way-for-prevention-of-pathogenic-protein-misfolding/. Such an approach preserves protein activity while preventing the formation of misfolded protein aggregates and might be used to design different RNA aptamers to tackle misfolded protein diseases involving prions and amyloid plaques for example.

6. Curing Multiple Sclerosis
Cell therapies have been developed that offer the very real outcome of curing multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune disorders https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/06/immune-system-destruction-and-recreation-can-cure-multiple-sclerosis/. The methodology is drastic and involves near complete destruction of the immune system to remove all code that commands certain immune cells to attack the body’s own tissues and then recreation of the immune system via reintroduced stem cell therapies. This is currently risky but for certain diseases quite justifiable; fortunately the approach will get safer with additional developments and might be generally beneficial for deficient aging immune systems.

7. Tunable Graphene Bandgaps & Other Materials
Another, more promising, technique for giving graphene a tunable bandgap has been developed that involves controllably doping the graphene lattice with nitrogen atoms http://www.nrl.navy.mil/media/news-releases/2016/NRL-Develops-New-Low-Defect-Method-to-Nitrogen-Dope-Graphene-Resulting-in-Tunable-Bandstructure, while maintaining charge transport properties, film integrity, and device stability. In related news graphene has been used to enable optoelectronic devices on regular paper http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=43606.php, and a smart contact lens and self-powered biosensor http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=43573.php.

8. Machine Learning Mazes
Mazes built in Minecraft are being used to test and train machine learning algorithms in navigating mazes and complex environments while performing specific tasks https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601646/the-ai-machines-undergoing-behavioral-psychology-tests/. The replicabilty of the maze environments allows different systems to be tested and have their performance ranked relative to other systems. One of the interesting findings from this development is that the best performing systems demonstrate context-dependent memory retrieval. The group hopes that creating ever-more-complex maze environments with ever-more-complex tasks will help train up ever-more-capable algorithms that might have real-world utility in robots for example.

9. CRISPR Records Digital Memory in Bacteria
A new protocol using CRISPR is able to write 100 bytes of data into the genome of bacteria, a significant increase from the 11 bits of data that was achieved previously http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/animals/a21268/scientists-turn-bacteria-into-living-hard-drives/. This works by simply book-ending your data of interest with DNA that looks like viral DNA; CRISPR allows the cell to incorporate this code into its DNA as part of its CRISPR-based immune system. The group hope to improve the technique and use better, more data-storage-friendly bacteria to store up to 3kb of data in a similar fashion.

10. Gene Therapy is Curing Hemophilia
Clinical use of gene therapies using viruses to deliver correct versions of the gene coding for Factor IX have essentially cured human patients of hemophilia to the point that they no longer need to take expensive replacement protein medications even though the activity levels have only been restored to 30% of normal levels https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601651/gene-therapy-is-curing-hemophilia/. This is a booming space with 70 different gene therapy products in clinical testing and should increasingly become routine as time goes on. Further efforts will develop gene variants with higher activity levels and viruses that are better able to evade the immune system.

SciTech Tip Jar: http://www.scitechdigest.net/p/donate.html ___

2016-06-07 14:02:32 (47 comments; 0 reshares; 53 +1s; )Open 

What Does the term Transhuman mean?

I've been wondering for a while whether the term, transhuman, has started to lose some of its meaning. I still associate with it the basic definition of simply someone who wishes to use technology to overcome their human limitations. We can split hairs and strictly refer to such a person as a transhumanist and a transhuman as a person who has already embraced technology to a point where their basic condition is noticeably altered, while transhumanism is the ad hoc "movement" of those seeking to promote and support efforts to enable and allow this.

For me the concern is partly due to seeing those who identify as transhuman splinter into slightly different branches along both political (libertarian, socialist, anarchist, etc) and other lines, some of which I don't identify with at all. And at least once I've had to correct... more »

What Does the term Transhuman mean?

I've been wondering for a while whether the term, transhuman, has started to lose some of its meaning. I still associate with it the basic definition of simply someone who wishes to use technology to overcome their human limitations. We can split hairs and strictly refer to such a person as a transhumanist and a transhuman as a person who has already embraced technology to a point where their basic condition is noticeably altered, while transhumanism is the ad hoc "movement" of those seeking to promote and support efforts to enable and allow this.

For me the concern is partly due to seeing those who identify as transhuman splinter into slightly different branches along both political (libertarian, socialist, anarchist, etc) and other lines, some of which I don't identify with at all. And at least once I've had to correct someone in real life that "no, no, it doesn't mean that, it means this..." And outside of the core transhuman community we also have the interesting phenomena of increased public awareness of transgender issues that also has the capacity to cause confusion. Also, and this may be purely my personal idiosyncratic wanderings, but I seem to see transhumanism discussed less frequently these days.

What do you think? Is it a term that has lost or is losing its meaning? Are there other points of ambiguity or confusion? Do we need a new label? Do you still identify as such, happy to correct mislabeling as it arises?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhumanism ___

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2016-06-07 12:02:41 (1 comments; 17 reshares; 33 +1s; )Open 

Neural Dust BCI

Add this video to Watch Later if you're into the latest developments with brain computer interfaces. I covered this in last week's digest but didn't get the chance to see the presentation until now. While long (1 hr) it covers lots and worthwhile aspects:

- Convey's awe at the sheer complexity of neurophysiology and the difficulty of actually getting recording devices in there without causing damage.

- Presents a good argument and rationale for pursuing the ultrasound + dust option, with ultrasound providing power and communications (good conceptual explanation how this is achieved), preventing infection and other benefits. My only question was whether bandwidth would be sufficient at scale.

- Interesting discussion on the use of mulitplexing and other wireless protocols to address very many individual recording devices... more »

Neural Dust BCI

Add this video to Watch Later if you're into the latest developments with brain computer interfaces. I covered this in last week's digest but didn't get the chance to see the presentation until now. While long (1 hr) it covers lots and worthwhile aspects:

- Convey's awe at the sheer complexity of neurophysiology and the difficulty of actually getting recording devices in there without causing damage.

- Presents a good argument and rationale for pursuing the ultrasound + dust option, with ultrasound providing power and communications (good conceptual explanation how this is achieved), preventing infection and other benefits. My only question was whether bandwidth would be sufficient at scale.

- Interesting discussion on the use of mulitplexing and other wireless protocols to address very many individual recording devices embedded into the cortex.

- Conveys the sheer scale of activity in this area (that we almost never hear about), the clinical trials, the patient tests, and the sheer level of rapid innovation and performance improvements.

- Coveys the surprising / amazing / fortunate adaptability of the brain and of individual neurons and how your signal processing algorithms don't have to be that great because the neural networks reconfigure and adapt to better interface with the device and compensate for the limitations (up to a point) of your crappy hardware and software.

Overall the talk shows that this research and development is very real, very much happening, and driven by very serious people that are very serious about creating the tools needed to record activity from every single neuron in a brain in real-time. These sorts of crazy brain computer interfaces seem to be hell bent on leaving the realms of science fiction sooner or later. ___

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2016-06-05 09:15:04 (11 comments; 26 reshares; 73 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 23/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/06/rna-plant-editing-stentrode-clinical.html

RNA plant editing, Stentrode clinical trials, Neural dust interface, New RNA CRISPR, Kniterate knitter, Bacterial probiotics, Biological signal processing, Autonomous robot surgeons, Metamaterial lenses, New cell therapies.

1. Editing Plants with RNAi
Monsanto has developed a spray-on genetic regulation platform using RNA interference for post-transcriptional gene regulation in plants, including delivery systems to ensure the RNAi molecules are carried through the plant and into cells https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601447/monsanto-cultivates-a-rose-that-doesnt-wilt/. One of the simpler demonstrations is for switching off certain enzymes that produce ethylene in flowers, which normally causes ripening and... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 23/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/06/rna-plant-editing-stentrode-clinical.html

RNA plant editing, Stentrode clinical trials, Neural dust interface, New RNA CRISPR, Kniterate knitter, Bacterial probiotics, Biological signal processing, Autonomous robot surgeons, Metamaterial lenses, New cell therapies.

1. Editing Plants with RNAi
Monsanto has developed a spray-on genetic regulation platform using RNA interference for post-transcriptional gene regulation in plants, including delivery systems to ensure the RNAi molecules are carried through the plant and into cells https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601447/monsanto-cultivates-a-rose-that-doesnt-wilt/. One of the simpler demonstrations is for switching off certain enzymes that produce ethylene in flowers, which normally causes ripening and wilting of flowers and blocking this significantly boosts the transport and shelf life of flowers. There are many equilibria in plants that could be similarly shifted one way or the other for some benefit. And the patent fully describes the entire platform: DIY Bio groups could produce their own custom interventions for novel applications. Meanwhile delivering RNA therapies to human cells body-wide is coming along http://biontech.de/2016/06/01/nature-publication-describes-first-example-of-a-clinically-applicable-and-systemic-mrna-cancer-immunotherapy-vaccine/.

2. Stentrode Entering Clinical Trials
The stentrode - a stent with a novel array of electrodes design for insertion into capillaries in the brain to detect neural activity in the cortex - was first announced a year or two ago, and will now enter human clinical trials in 2017 https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/moving-with-the-power-of-thought. The stentrode recently completed successful animal trials and the ultimate goal is to have the device allow patients to control prosthetics and exoskeletons just by thinking. Speaking of exoskeletons, those planned for 2018 are starting to look quite advanced http://nextbigfuture.com/2016/05/liquid-armor-and-tiny-high-power.html.

3. Neural Dust Brain Interfaces
Another technology first covered a year or two ago and continuing to show progress is neural dust, in which tiny low-power sensors are introduced into the cortex along with a sub-dural transceiver for powering and relaying signals from the dust to a larger external transceiver that ultimately connects to any computer or network http://nextbigfuture.com/2016/06/neural-dust-ultra-small-brain.html. In this case the technology has now been demonstrated in remote controlling live cyborg insects in free flight; I wonder how long until they move to animals? In related news implanted neuroprostheses are improving the walking ability of stroke patients with walking impairments http://wolterskluwer.com/company/newsroom/news/2016/05/implanted-neuroprosthesis-improves-walking-ability-in-stroke-patient.html.

4. New CRISPR Version for RNA Control
CRISPR tools and genetics continues to innovate at an impressive pace with the discovery and development of a new CRISPR tool for precisely targeting and editing RNA in the cell http://news.mit.edu/2016/new-crispr-system-targeting-rna-0602. This alternative version does not introduce permanent edits to genomic DNA, but rather can be used to cut specific RNAs, block protein production, add code to RNA to alter function, add tags to RNA to track and localise RNA, and generally provide an alternative tool to conventional siRNA interventions.

5. Kniterate, the Automated Knitting Machine
Kniterate is an attempt to make knitting as easy and flexible as 3D printing http://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/at-work/start-ups/updating-the-knitting-machine-to-be-an-easytouse-3-d-printer-for-fabric. Simply design or download a pattern and have kniterate produce the custom designed and custom sized piece for you. This isn’t so much a revolution as an evolution over existing systems, with a level of automation that lowers the knowledge and skill requirements of the user desiring to produce different fabrics. A nice addition the tools of distributed production.

6. Bacterial Probiotics Boost Immune Function
Certain bacterial probiotics appear to boost immune function by increasing the size of the thymus and elevating the expression of FoxN1 that helps to program immune cells https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/06/bacterial-stimulation-of-foxn1-theorized-to-enhance-healthy-longevity/, and this effect also seemed to boost the size and growth of skeletal muscle. The molecular signalling pathway for this is still being investigated but as the thymus of everyone atrophies and reduces immune function with age this appears to be a simple and effective method to at least partially offset this decline and improve human health with age.

7. Analogue & Digital Biological Processing in Cells
Both analogue and digital computational gene circuits have been integrated into engineered cells for the first time to facilitate more complex processing and responses http://news.mit.edu/2016/gene-circuits-live-cells-complex-computations-0603. These circuits can work by analogy to electronic comparators that take analogue input signals and produce a digital output. The idea here is to produce cells that are able to respond to different levels of some molecule and produce another molecule (e.g. drug) in response. The group have created a company, Synlogic, to commercialise this platform technology initially via engineered probiotics.

8. Autonomous Robot Surgeons
This is a good review article of the current state of the art and trends in developing autonomous robotic surgeons http://spectrum.ieee.org/robotics/medical-robots/would-you-trust-a-robot-surgeon-to-operate-on-you. This covers everything from merely robot-assisted surgeries, to human-oversight robotic surgeries, to on-going tests and projected roll-outs of fully-autonomous systems. The key hurdle for fully autonomous systems is the capacity to deal reliably with unexpected crisis events that demand rapid novel adaptation to control before moving on.

9. Metamaterial Lens for Microscopes and Cameras
A new flat, planar metalens has been demonstrated, created by using algorithms to determine the best metamaterial structures required to focus light, and made by forming titanium dioxide pillars on quartz surfaces http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-36438686. Such flat metalenses might be fabricated directly onto phone camera modules for example, and in tests demonstrated 30% better sharpness than even state-of-the-art conventional, bulky objective lenses. They would also allow quickly creating arbitrarily large lenses. In related news we had plasmonic pixels to enable long-lasting colours http://phys.org/news/2016-05-plasmonic-pixels-non-fading.html.

10. Recent Cell Therapy Developments
First, modified adult stem cells, when introduced into the brains of patients who had suffered stroke some time in the past, help induce substantial recoverey http://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2016/06/stem-cells-shown-safe-beneficial-for-chronic-stroke-patients.html. The patients involved in the trial demonstrated clinically meaningful improvements, including regaining arm and leg movement. Second, we have yet more promising work on cancer immunotherapies, this time by activating a patient's immune cells by injecting nanoparticles of fat containing pieces of RNA expressed by certain cancer cells http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/cancer-vaccine-immunotherapy-universal-immune-system-rna-nature-journal-a7060181.html and offering a platform that might be used to selectively target many different cancers.

SciTech Tip Jar: http://www.scitechdigest.net/p/donate.html___

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2016-06-05 05:37:31 (29 comments; 14 reshares; 75 +1s; )Open 

The Age of Outrage

Good timely piece by Mark Manson on the age of outrage; taking offense at every tiny slight, inciting moralistic witch hunts, and trying to suppress and censor free speech and expression because of opposing viewpoints http://markmanson.net/outrage.

I see this growing over the last few years, I see it making society more divisive, I see the rise of fallacious reasoning, I see it mainly from the extreme-left, and I see parallels with fundamentalist religions, but I can't yet see how we deal with this problem.

And deal with it we must. 

The Age of Outrage

Good timely piece by Mark Manson on the age of outrage; taking offense at every tiny slight, inciting moralistic witch hunts, and trying to suppress and censor free speech and expression because of opposing viewpoints http://markmanson.net/outrage.

I see this growing over the last few years, I see it making society more divisive, I see the rise of fallacious reasoning, I see it mainly from the extreme-left, and I see parallels with fundamentalist religions, but I can't yet see how we deal with this problem.

And deal with it we must. ___

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2016-05-29 11:09:00 (5 comments; 32 reshares; 113 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 22/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/05/mapping-ncrna-computers-driving-maths.html

Mapping ncRNA, Protein modularity, Better infrared light capture, Clutter busting robots, Computers driving maths & science, Automatic DNA origami, Scaling quantum dots, Cancer immunotherapies, Reducing amyloid plaques, Large-scale IoT.

1. Mapping Non-Coding RNA from Junk DNA
A new technique called LIGR-Seq captures interactions between different RNA molecules, isolates them, sequences them, and so identifies novel functions for new non-coding RNA molecules http://www.thedonnellycentre.utoronto.ca/news/shedding-light-%E2%80%98dark-matter%E2%80%99-genome. Types of non-coding RNA’s include the following: rRNA, tRNA, snRNA, snoRNA, piRNA, miRNA, and lncRNA. Only 2% of the genome codes for mRNA and proteins.T... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 22/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/05/mapping-ncrna-computers-driving-maths.html

Mapping ncRNA, Protein modularity, Better infrared light capture, Clutter busting robots, Computers driving maths & science, Automatic DNA origami, Scaling quantum dots, Cancer immunotherapies, Reducing amyloid plaques, Large-scale IoT.

1. Mapping Non-Coding RNA from Junk DNA
A new technique called LIGR-Seq captures interactions between different RNA molecules, isolates them, sequences them, and so identifies novel functions for new non-coding RNA molecules http://www.thedonnellycentre.utoronto.ca/news/shedding-light-%E2%80%98dark-matter%E2%80%99-genome. Types of non-coding RNA’s include the following: rRNA, tRNA, snRNA, snoRNA, piRNA, miRNA, and lncRNA. Only 2% of the genome codes for mRNA and proteins. The other 98% was thought to be junk, but it turns out that 50% - 75% of this “junk” is transcribed into non-coding RNAs now thought to have many functions in the cell and that previously had been incredibly difficult to identify, study, and characterise. This new tool changes that and should significantly boost our understanding of the cell and ways to manipulate it.

2. Better Understanding Protein Modularity and Design
A new evolutionary analysis of protein structure-function reveals strong conservation over time and across species for modular protein components that form loops for active sites that bind molecules or other proteins http://singularityhub.com/2016/05/25/scientists-unearth-key-evolutionary-link-in-proteins/. These modules are essentially used over and over again in different genes throughout different species and their identification provides avenues for directed synthetic biology applications, combining different modules to create proteins with novel functions. This phenomenon, known as hierarchical modularity has been observed in other complex man-made networks.

3. Efficiently Capturing Infrared Light
By etching thin grooves into semiconducting thin films a group has created ultraefficient infrared light absorbers capable of capturing 99% of infrared light instead of the conventional approaches that manage 7.7% http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-05/uos-obt052416.php. The structure of the grooves direct the light sideways into the material and drastically reduce reflections; I wonder if they are trying similar techniques for photovoltaics? Applications include much cheaper and more portable night-vision capabilities, thermal imaging generally, and perhaps types of sensing spectroscopy.

4. Robots Dealing with Clutter
New software is helping robots better deal with clutter via “rearrangement planning”, especially when pick-and-place becomes unfeasible or too time consuming http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2016/may/robots-clutter.html. Obvious applications in sorting objects in complex environments and also in path planning when traversing cluttered and uneven surfaces. Next step is to incorporate additional levels and means of feedback for the robot to react and adjust to the environment as it goes about rearranging things. Meanwhile a new robot quickly sorts different types of rubbish for recycling applications http://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/robotics/industrial-robots/to-reycle-or-not-to-recycle-a-trash-robot-knows-for-sure.

5. Computers Solving Maths and Mining Science
The largest ever mathematics proof has been announced, in this case for computationally cracking the Boolean Pythagorean Triples problem, and is contained in a 200 Terabyte file http://www.nature.com/news/two-hundred-terabyte-maths-proof-is-largest-ever-1.19990?. Such brute-force proofs are becoming increasingly common and are no doubt useful, but people question whether they actually lead to increased mathematical understanding as is the case with general proofs. In related news machine learning techniques are being used to help researchers filter immense volumes of scientific papers and data to better direct research efforts, ask better questions, and reduce wasted efforts http://singularityhub.com/2016/05/26/machine-learnings-next-trick-will-transform-how-research-is-done/ and https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601589/the-first-visual-search-engine-for-scientific-diagrams/.

6. Automating DNA Origami Design
DAEDALUS is a new software algorithm that allows a user to design and specify a 3D structure, complete with holes, for which it then automatically designs the optimised sequence and number of DNA strands needed for form that particular DNA origami nanoparticle http://news.mit.edu/2016/automating-dna-origami-opens-door-many-new-uses-0526. Such a tool will further accelerate the field of self-assembled DNA nanostructures, and broaden its accessibility to more people across more fields. Applications include designing better gene-delivery vehicles, conjugation with proteins for functional targeting, functional memory blocks, basic nano-scale building blocks, functionalisation with metals for quantum dots, next-generation nanomachines and nanodevices.

7. Scaling Up Quantum Dot Production
Another recent technique for scaling up quantum dot production makes use of bacterial fermentation to do so https://www.ornl.gov/news/ornl-demonstrates-large-scale-technique-produce-quantum-dots. In this case zinc sulfide nanoparticles were fabricated by bacteria in a fermentation / biomanufacturing technique that results in the quantum dot nanoparticles being produced outside of the cell, and possibly 90% cheaper than other methods. Seems we really are getting closer to mass manufacturing of nanometer-scale quantum dots with magnetic, photovoltaic, and catalytic properties for a wide range of applications in electronics, energy generation and storage, and imaging.

8. Nuances in Cancer Immunotherapies
It turns out that techniques for activating a patient’s own immune cells to attack cancer cells may not be as effective as introducing immune cells taken from healthy volunteers https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/05/borrowed-immune-cells-to-fight-cancer/. The introduced cells turned out to be much better at recognising the cancer cells as cancerous, which the patient’s own immune system had otherwise failed to recognise; this is probably one of multiple mechanisms for the benefits of parabiosis. Immunotherapies are some of the most promising techniques currently being trialled and advances like this should only help to make them more effective.

9. Reducing Amyloid Plaques Systemically
It appears that organs and tissues peripheral to the brain play a role in removing and clearing Amyloid-beta protein and reducing the levels of Amyloid plaques the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s Disease https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/05/the-possibility-of-reducing-amyloid-in-the-brain-by-reducing-it-elsewhere/. Amyloid produced in the brain appears to be somewhat cleared in the periphery, and boosting this clearance in the periphery helps to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease pathogenesis. This could be a source of low-hanging-fruit for temporarily pushing back Alzheimer’s Disease in humans to buy time for more advanced therapies.

10. First Large-Scale Internet of Things Network
Building of the first nation-wide network dedicated to the Internet of Things has been announced by Samsung, to be tested and rolled-out through South Korea http://nextbigfuture.com/2016/05/samsung-and-sk-telecom-to-build-world.html. This brings together a range of innovations in wireless communications, networking, data analytics, and electronic sensing to demonstrate a viable and effective nation-wide Internet of Things platform that people can expand and build applications on top of. As an example streetlights will collect weather and traffic information to facilitate lighting adjustments and pollution monitoring.

SciTech Tip Jar: http://www.scitechdigest.net/p/donate.html ___

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2016-05-28 08:17:41 (7 comments; 12 reshares; 50 +1s; )Open 

Inflammatory Alarmism and Other Nonsense Against Human Genome Editing

I came across a few articles recently that promoted outrageous inflammatory alarmism over human genome editing. The sentiment, pessimism, and authoritarianism present in all cases annoyed and offended me deeply and I couldn't help but get a little rant off my chest. This little rant turned out a little longer than anticipated.


We Need a Species-Wide Conversation About the Future of Human Enhancement
http://techcrunch.com/2016/05/01/homo-sapiens-2-0-we-need-a-species-wide-conversation-about-the-future-of-human-genetic-enhancement/

This piece discusses the impending future of human genome editing and enhancement via CRISPR and other tools, but leans on the side of allowing the dictates of the uninformed majority to guide development and finishes with outright alarmist... more »

Inflammatory Alarmism and Other Nonsense Against Human Genome Editing

I came across a few articles recently that promoted outrageous inflammatory alarmism over human genome editing. The sentiment, pessimism, and authoritarianism present in all cases annoyed and offended me deeply and I couldn't help but get a little rant off my chest. This little rant turned out a little longer than anticipated.


We Need a Species-Wide Conversation About the Future of Human Enhancement
http://techcrunch.com/2016/05/01/homo-sapiens-2-0-we-need-a-species-wide-conversation-about-the-future-of-human-genetic-enhancement/

This piece discusses the impending future of human genome editing and enhancement via CRISPR and other tools, but leans on the side of allowing the dictates of the uninformed majority to guide development and finishes with outright alarmist conclusions that cataclysmic outcomes will result if we don’t do this. I think it is well written but basically fanciful in its main thrust.

We get a discussion of how over nearly 40 years the first test tube baby went from being a moral abomination to passing a very routine 5 millionth IVF birth, and how human genome editing will probably go through a similar phase of aversion and acceptance. This will be unavoidable and start with fighting disease. There are many bits I have a problem with:

Not everyone will be comfortable with genetic enhancement based on some people’s understandable ideological or religious beliefs or for real or perceived safety concerns. Life is not just about science and code. It involves mystery and chance and, for some, spirit. This erroneously presumes you won’t still have those things when genome editing is common, which is just wrong and misleading.

69 percent of Americans felt that genetically altering unborn babies to reduce their risk of developing serious diseases should be illegal. The sheer level of ignorant sadism in this statement, shared by more than two thirds of the population, is just breathtaking. When reducing the suffering of another human is trivially easy, and you seek to use state force to prevent people from doing so, and so cause needless human suffering, you are most definitely part of the problem.

Eighty three percent felt that genetic alterations to improve the intelligence or physical characteristics of unborn babies should be banned. Again, what right do people think they have to dictate what other people can and can’t do to improve the life of their children? How is their desire to use state force to stop people from doing this any different than those people using the state to enforce the adoption of these techniques on all people whether they want them or not?

No matter what the intention of parents, might genetic selection of children become a form of liberal or not-so-liberal Eugenics that challenges the moral core of our humanity? Might it encourage us to devalue the critically important and varied contributions everyone makes in a diverse society? There is more than a hint of regressive political correctness here and ill-considered virtue signalling, assuming one’s own morals and values are the moral core and collective values of humanity and seeking to impose this on everyone else, and all while using shaming name-calling (Eugenics) to shut down rational debate.

If a relatively small number of even very well intentioned people unleash a human genetic revolution that will ultimately touch most everyone and alter our species’ evolutionary trajectory without informed, meaningful, and early input from others, the backlash against the genetic revolution will overwhelm its monumental potential for good. Ending on a rather alarmist and pessimistic note. The whole piece almost becomes contradictory here, calling for a species-wide conversation on our future use of these technologies, which would not only be infeasible in principle, but it sure as hell wouldn’t be informed or meaningful with most of those people.


A Secret Meeting on Creating Synthetic Human Genomes
TechnologyReview coverage: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601540/big-ideas-big-conflicts-in-plan-to-synthesize-a-human-genome/
Engadget coverage:
http://www.engadget.com/2016/05/13/scientists-held-a-secret-meeting-to-debate-creating-synthetic-hu/
Cosmos criticism:
https://cosmosmagazine.com/society/should-we-synthesise-human-genome

So a bunch of geneticists and technologists met at Harvard recently to discuss and plan the Human Genome Project Write, focused on the technical ability to synthesise very large whole genomes from scratch, basically doing for human cells what Craig Venter has already done for minimal microbes. This amounts to pitching a mega-project to help drive technological evolution and drastically reduce the price of DNA synthesis. But they’ve been slammed for making the meeting “secret”.

The TechnologyReview article is quite good and includes rational responses from George Church towards some of the myopic criticism the proposal received.

The Engadget piece has just terrible science reporting:
At the top of their worry pile is that the project will end up innovating new ways to make synthetic human genes, which could lead to them being used to artificially create humans. Nope, we can already create synthetic human genes if we want, and we already have IVF and other techniques for artificially creating humans. This is misleading alarmist BS.

And if the meeting was about synthetic human genes, there should be a public debate on the morality of creating or editing human genes. Human genes are already being edited as part of standard gene therapies; the debate has already been had. But no, let’s hinder and block the technology again and force the morals of some segment of the population onto everyone else and block free expression and choice.

The original criticism in Cosmos is just backwards and full of the same authoritarian moralistic impositions as other pieces here:
A project that made polio virus from scratch in 2002 generated such fear that public funding for improving DNA synthesis tools was cancelled, unwittingly harming research across diverse and unrelated fields while policy makers struggled to imagine how such tools could ever be controlled. So yes let’s bow down again to the ignorant and the uninformed.

Would it be OK, for example, to sequence and then synthesise Einstein’s genome? Yep, it’d be irrelevant.

We note that the narrative of creation of the human is the central narrative for many religious communities. How is this even remotely relevant to the matter at hand?

To create a human genome from scratch would be an enormous moral gesture whose consequences should not be framed initially on the advice of lawyers and regulators alone. Nope, in the grand scheme of things it would be a trivial and quite irrelevant step, just doing for larger genomes what we’ve already done for smaller, and opening up a range of more interesting applications that would be consequently cheaper and easier to pursue. Sure, if you’re a religious nut believing in a creator santa claus then it might seem morally relevant but to those unblinded by such then it is morally irrelevant. The value of a human lies in more than just their DNA code.

The perspectives of others including self-identified theologians, philosophers, and ethicists from a variety of traditions should be sought out from the very beginning. Yes let’s prostrate ourselves before theologians of all things and self-appointed morally superior bioethicists, and follow their dictates because the moral compass and ethical outlook of those actually driving and developing the technology, those who understand it best, are obviously inferior. Simply unfriggenbelievable that in this day and age there are calls for theologians to be involved in setting science policy and guidelines.


Let People Most Affected by Gene Editing Write CRISPR Rules
https://www.newscientist.com/article/2086548-let-people-most-affected-by-gene-editing-write-crispr-rules/

A fantastic example of self-righteous bioethicists seeking to arrogantly impose and enforce their morals on everyone else in order to justify their existence. Far be it from those most versed in the technology, those most expert, those most willing to devote time, effort and resources to the technology, no; instead apparently the disabled and the third world should write the rules of how CRISPR is used that everyone else should be forced to follow.

And all because some disabled people might like being disabled and might not like the idea of gene editing to cure their disability. Aside from the fact that use of such technology would be a choice, no; they might not like it so they should be able to control the availability of that choice for everyone else.

And also because this will be an elitist treatment that won’t benefit the poor in the third world and has to be shared equally. Aside from the fact that the massive amount of investment involved dictates first generation CRISPR therapies will be costly, not least because those same bioethicists dictate onerous and incredibly expensive clinical trials forcing this to be so, and ignoring the fact that not much more than a decade at most after first market entry cheap generic versions of these same therapies will be manufactured and available to everyone just like current drugs today.

And even because women will suffer because they are the primary carers of people with disabilities, and this risks putting them out of a job. Seriously.

I find sentiment like this unbelievably disappointing. Let’s hinder CRISPR, slow it down, make it harder for therapies to be developed, tie it up in regulation, suffocate innovation, drive it underground. Just get out of the way and let the technology evolve; the benefits will come. Attempts at prohibition will just deliver nasty unexpected side effects and costs. Just like they do every, single, time.

The one positive was specific mention of and support for DIY at-home CRISPR hacking. So it wasn’t a complete waste.


The above is just so damn depressing that I have to finish on an optimistic note: BioViva ups the ante on medical tourism by planning an age-reversal clinic in Fiji.
https://www.inverse.com/article/15895-bioviva-plans-an-age-reversal-clinic-in-fiji-as-medical-tourism-gets-weird

The trailblazing Liz Parish, CEO of BioViva, who last year performed the first life-extension gene therapies on herself, has partnered with Sierra Sciences and announced the creation of the world’s first age reversal clinic in Fiji. Fiji has implemented very progressive policies with regards to medical regulation, branding itself as a medical tourism destination, and provides tax incentives to medical institutes.

Looks like the partnership hopes to kick things off with a launch to medical tourists in 2017 or 2018 at the latest, and using revenues to bring costs down. This is great, optimistic news and a real cause for hope. Even if the worst comes to pass, as hinted at in the above list of myopic attempts at control of biotechnology, then we should still be able to jump on a plane to Fiji and other places in order to access the tools and treatments that we want.

As always, prohibition never works. ___

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2016-05-25 13:16:55 (12 comments; 42 reshares; 96 +1s; )Open 

How Technology Hacks People's Minds

This article is just too damn good not to share - easily the best I've read in recent memory. I forget who first shared it here but thank you.

https://medium.com/@tristanharris/how-technology-hijacks-peoples-minds-from-a-magician-and-google-s-design-ethicist-56d62ef5edf3#.x953hbytl

It discusses 10 psychological hacks used in designing (typically) digital products and services to better grab and hold your attention, to the point of inducing a form of addiction if possible. In summary these are:

1. Controlling the menu to control the choices.
2. Making the experience like a slot machine.
3. The fear of missing something important.
4. The need for social approval.
5. Social favours and reciprocity.
6. Infinite feeds and autoplay.
7. Instant, "urgent" interruption. ... more »

How Technology Hacks People's Minds

This article is just too damn good not to share - easily the best I've read in recent memory. I forget who first shared it here but thank you.

https://medium.com/@tristanharris/how-technology-hijacks-peoples-minds-from-a-magician-and-google-s-design-ethicist-56d62ef5edf3#.x953hbytl

It discusses 10 psychological hacks used in designing (typically) digital products and services to better grab and hold your attention, to the point of inducing a form of addiction if possible. In summary these are:

1. Controlling the menu to control the choices.
2. Making the experience like a slot machine.
3. The fear of missing something important.
4. The need for social approval.
5. Social favours and reciprocity.
6. Infinite feeds and autoplay.
7. Instant, "urgent" interruption.
8. Making your reasons their reasons.
9. Offering choices that are inconvenient.
10. Forecasting errors via foot-in-the-door tactics.

The author Tristan Harris worked for Google as a Product Philosopher / Design Ethicist exploring and recommending ways to protect and defend people's minds from being hijacked and their time from being wasted.

We need our smartphones, notifications screens and web browsers to be exoskeletons for our minds and interpersonal relationships that put our values, not our impulses, first. People’s time is valuable. And we should protect it with the same rigor as privacy and other digital rights.

Other Resources

Tristan's TEDx talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jT5rRh9AZf4

Tristan's resource site for better design and time saving: http://timewellspent.io/___

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2016-05-25 11:50:32 (14 comments; 4 reshares; 47 +1s; )Open 

Thanks for the Free Upgrade Google

YouTube Red finally launched in Australia a week or so ago and I was happy to note that my existing $10 per month Google Play Music subscription automatically granted me access upon opening the newly updated YouTube app for the first time after the announcement. So this was like a free bonus as no extra $10 per month was needed.

The updated YouTube app is damn slick and smooth. With the Red option active, little differences that seem minor, such as (i) no adverts to skip or sit through, (ii) the ability to play audio in the background while using other apps, and (iii) the ability to play audio with the screen off, make a very noticeable and exceptionally welcome impact when using YouTube. The one thing I don't expect to use much is the "download to watch offline" function.

I listen to a lot of YouTube talks, lectures,... more »

Thanks for the Free Upgrade Google

YouTube Red finally launched in Australia a week or so ago and I was happy to note that my existing $10 per month Google Play Music subscription automatically granted me access upon opening the newly updated YouTube app for the first time after the announcement. So this was like a free bonus as no extra $10 per month was needed.

The updated YouTube app is damn slick and smooth. With the Red option active, little differences that seem minor, such as (i) no adverts to skip or sit through, (ii) the ability to play audio in the background while using other apps, and (iii) the ability to play audio with the screen off, make a very noticeable and exceptionally welcome impact when using YouTube. The one thing I don't expect to use much is the "download to watch offline" function.

I listen to a lot of YouTube talks, lectures, and debates and the video imagery is usually optional. Being able to just listen to the audio with screen off while driving is great and also saves on mobile data consumption. I know there have been specialised apps for years that have allowed you to do this but having the ability in the native YouTube app just makes things that much easier and convenient. Also: similar benefits on desktop and Chromecast.

Anyone else using and enjoying YouTube Red? Any complaints? ___

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2016-05-24 13:45:17 (6 comments; 20 reshares; 99 +1s; )Open 

Vysor

I've been playing around with Koush's new Vysor app, which you can grab via http://www.vysor.io/

Basically Vysor lets you control your phone from your computer and allows you to generate a shareable link to the session for other people or devices to control your phone from anywhere. It's all done in the browser and the execution is pretty slick.

Install the Chrome webapp from the Chrome Store, plug your phone in (my Nexus 6P here), launch the Vysor app, a Chrome window opens to allow mouse control of the phone and keyboard entry, etc. Click a button to share access, grab the link, send to someone else, they click and can execute the same control of your phone in their browser (example here of wife logged into Chromebook).

Potentially useful to troubleshoot a friend's or family member's phone remotely and quickly. Or perhaps... more »

Vysor

I've been playing around with Koush's new Vysor app, which you can grab via http://www.vysor.io/

Basically Vysor lets you control your phone from your computer and allows you to generate a shareable link to the session for other people or devices to control your phone from anywhere. It's all done in the browser and the execution is pretty slick.

Install the Chrome webapp from the Chrome Store, plug your phone in (my Nexus 6P here), launch the Vysor app, a Chrome window opens to allow mouse control of the phone and keyboard entry, etc. Click a button to share access, grab the link, send to someone else, they click and can execute the same control of your phone in their browser (example here of wife logged into Chromebook).

Potentially useful to troubleshoot a friend's or family member's phone remotely and quickly. Or perhaps remotely control a device that the phone has been linked to and has control over, e.g. LIFX lights, a Lego robot, etc. Or even set up as a remote video camera.

Next step will be full wireless capabilities to untether from the computer if possible; it should be given I played with basic apps with that level of functionality about 4 years ago, e.g. https://plus.google.com/u/0/+MarkBruce/posts/hscDMkAnsh6.

Note I paid the $10 for the Pro version.___

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2016-05-24 11:53:32 (17 comments; 4 reshares; 30 +1s; )Open 

Your Brain Does Not Store or Process Information
Or so claims Robert Epstein in this piece: https://aeon.co/essays/your-brain-does-not-process-information-and-it-is-not-a-computer

There are quite a few problems with this article and its thesis but I still think it is worth a read for those interested in the brain, cognition, and consciousness. The article is ultimately an appeal to the field of Embodied Cognition.

Some of the worthwhile bits include passages like the following and just simply recognising the fundamental importance of metaphor in our thinking, our understanding, and how we see the world:

The information processing (IP) metaphor of human intelligence now dominates human thinking, both on the street and in the sciences. There is virtually no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour that proceeds without employing this metaphor, just as... more »

Your Brain Does Not Store or Process Information
Or so claims Robert Epstein in this piece: https://aeon.co/essays/your-brain-does-not-process-information-and-it-is-not-a-computer

There are quite a few problems with this article and its thesis but I still think it is worth a read for those interested in the brain, cognition, and consciousness. The article is ultimately an appeal to the field of Embodied Cognition.

Some of the worthwhile bits include passages like the following and just simply recognising the fundamental importance of metaphor in our thinking, our understanding, and how we see the world:

The information processing (IP) metaphor of human intelligence now dominates human thinking, both on the street and in the sciences. There is virtually no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour that proceeds without employing this metaphor, just as no form of discourse about intelligent human behaviour could proceed in certain eras and cultures without reference to a spirit or deity. The validity of the IP metaphor in today’s world is generally assumed without question.

But the IP metaphor is, after all, just another metaphor – a story we tell to make sense of something we don’t actually understand. And like all the metaphors that preceded it, it will certainly be cast aside at some point – either replaced by another metaphor or, in the end, replaced by actual knowledge. The IP metaphor is ‘sticky’. It encumbers our thinking with language and ideas that are so powerful we have trouble thinking around them.

Prevailing metaphors adopted to understand the world are heavily influenced by and at times dictated by the technological paradigm of the time. Hindsight allows us to see the errors and simplicity in old, outdated, metaphors. If nothing else the article forces us to ask: is the prevailing metaphor of our times, that of computation, the final metaphor? If not then improved future understanding and metaphors will look at us as we do our forebears. This forces the author to give an account as to why it isn’t the final metaphor but I don’t think they achieve this.

As an example, the dollar bill-in-memory test doesn’t appear to offer a satisfactory explanation:

But she hadn’t made a deliberate effort to ‘memorise’ the details. Had she done so, you might argue, she could presumably have drawn the second image without the bill being present.

And also:

But neither the song nor the poem has been ‘stored’ in it. The brain has simply changed in an orderly way that now allows us to sing the song or recite the poem under certain conditions . . . We simply sing or recite – no retrieval necessary.

The author argues that even if she draws the dollar bill perfectly from memory, she doesn’t actually have the bill in memory in her brain. This seems like a tautology of sorts or else I have something very wrong here. My understanding, to put it simply, is that the act of memorisation of a detailed object involves the brain forming an ever-more-accurate pattern in the brain representing the object and this accurate pattern can be re-experienced, i.e. re-membered, in order to recognise or reproduce it in future; surely this counts as storing the memory of that thing and this pattern has been computed by the neural networks of the brain?

Throughout the piece I kept wanting a clear and coherent alternative to be presented. The author claims to do so, but as far as I can tell either fails, demands too much prior jargon from the reader, or otherwise dispenses with any clarity. The closest to clarification they come to concerns a description of catching a flying ball:

The IP perspective requires the player to formulate an estimate of various initial conditions of the ball’s flight – the force of the impact, the angle of the trajectory, that kind of thing – then to create and analyse an internal model of the path along which the ball will likely move, then to use that model to guide and adjust motor movements continuously in time in order to intercept the ball.

That is all well and good if we functioned as computers do, but McBeath and his colleagues gave a simpler account: to catch the ball, the player simply needs to keep moving in a way that keeps the ball in a constant visual relationship with respect to home plate and the surrounding scenery (technically, in a ‘linear optical trajectory’). This might sound complicated, but it is actually incredibly simple, and completely free of computations, representations and algorithms.

With this and other descriptions (see below) I can’t help but think the author is blinded or hindered by an incredibly constrained understanding or definition of computation. To me this explanation manages to explain very little, and certainly not how it is free of computation. Fortunately the author makes reference to and recommends other prominent proponents of Embodied Cognition and after searching a bunch of their blog posts I found what appears to be their best explanation here http://psychsciencenotes.blogspot.com.au/2015/07/brains-dont-have-to-be-computers-purple.html.

While their explanation may be even more obtuse, one of the key examples or analogies they are relying on concerns the Polar Planimeter. Knock out the Planimeter and you knock out one of the foundations of their argument. They claim the Planimeter doesn’t actually compute the area of the shape it traces out, despite the fact that it takes an input - moving the needle around the edge of the shape - and produces an output - the area of the shape thus traversed. It seems to me as though the Planimeter does indeed compute the area of the shape or am I missing something here?

The computation, or algorithmic function, for determining the area of the shape transcribed is encoded in the design of the device and its gears, or so it appears to me. Am I wrong or missing something here? They seem to claim something along the lines of “simply by interacting with its environment the Planimeter naturally produces a suitable response to that environment” but it all seems terribly hand-wavy and imprecise, and again suffers from a restricted definition of computation. Others have referred to Planimeters as analogue calculating devices; surely they can also be referred to as analogue computing devices?

A problem with this passage and those that precede it:

Fortunately, because the IP metaphor is not even slightly valid, we will never have to worry about a human mind going amok in cyberspace; alas, we will also never achieve immortality through downloading.

This seems to claim that the human mind / cognition / consciousness is not physical, that it exists apart from matter and physical law. There are few people who have time to entertain such simplistic dualism. All evidence points to these things having a physical basis and as such claiming substrate independence for the phenomena is a reasonable claim. I suspect the author is caught up in holding only the most basic of computational substrates as a possible alternative, when other substrates can easily be posited to address arguments he has against these.

Finally, for this passage:

Worse still, even if we had the ability to take a snapshot of all of the brain’s 86 billion neurons and then to simulate the state of those neurons in a computer, that vast pattern would mean nothing outside the body of the brain that produced it.

I would ask if fMRI studies are now allowing us to partially determine what someone is thinking then surely running a complete connectome simulation and likewise measuring activity would allow us to determine what that brain was thinking, even without a body?

Planimeters
[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_W35iDhRfZg
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdxPEZnv-U0
[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_k_0hRpOA4
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planimeter ___

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2016-05-23 11:55:52 (8 comments; 0 reshares; 37 +1s; )Open 

Serving up slices of home-made bread to go with our home-made soup last night I couldn't help but notice it looked like the cross-section of a brain. A little bit of frontal lobe damage on the left hemisphere perhaps but damn tasty nonetheless. 

Serving up slices of home-made bread to go with our home-made soup last night I couldn't help but notice it looked like the cross-section of a brain. A little bit of frontal lobe damage on the left hemisphere perhaps but damn tasty nonetheless. ___

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2016-05-22 07:02:02 (23 comments; 32 reshares; 99 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 21/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/05/massive-photon-theories-chiral-mirror.html

Massive photon theories, Chiral mirror enzymes, TensorFlow ASIC, Efficient solar cells, Carbon computing, Better autonomous vehicles, Fast wireless Internet, Fixing mitochondria, 3D printed hair, Smartphone urine test.

1. Dark Energy & Massive Photons
A new theory suggests that if photons have a mass of about 10^-70kg then the way that photons interact with different fields and matter in the Universe would lead to a repulsive effect that looks a lot like dark energy causing the Universe to expand http://www.sciencealert.com/heavy-light-could-explain-dark-energy. This replaces the current unexplainable cosmological constant with an unmeasurable property in the tiny mass of photons. Of course it also goes... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 21/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/05/massive-photon-theories-chiral-mirror.html

Massive photon theories, Chiral mirror enzymes, TensorFlow ASIC, Efficient solar cells, Carbon computing, Better autonomous vehicles, Fast wireless Internet, Fixing mitochondria, 3D printed hair, Smartphone urine test.

1. Dark Energy & Massive Photons
A new theory suggests that if photons have a mass of about 10^-70kg then the way that photons interact with different fields and matter in the Universe would lead to a repulsive effect that looks a lot like dark energy causing the Universe to expand http://www.sciencealert.com/heavy-light-could-explain-dark-energy. This replaces the current unexplainable cosmological constant with an unmeasurable property in the tiny mass of photons. Of course it also goes against all known physics that demands light have zero mass. Still interesting as it ties in with recent work on the EM Drive and the Unruh radiation explanation for acceleration that is dependent on photons having a small inertial mass. In related news light has been discovered to have another property thought to be impossible and not in line with current physics, that of half-integer angular momentum https://www.tcd.ie/news_events/articles/physicists-discover-a-new-form-of-light/6815#.Vzv11d8rJR0.

2. Synthetic Chiral Mirror Enzymes
All of life is built on and deals with handed or chiral molecules: all amino acids are left-handed while all DNA twists like a right-handed screw. For the first time a synthetic chiral mirror-image polymerase protein that can both copy mirror-DNA and transcribe it to mirror-RNA has been engineered http://www.nature.com/news/mirror-image-enzyme-copies-looking-glass-dna-1.19918. This part of a wider research program to make a complete mirror-image cell in which all proteins, polynucleotides, and other molecules are chiral, mirror images of a normal cell. This is interesting because mirror-image chemistries are incompatible with each other and so such a biological system would have natural resistance to normal viruses, degradation enzymes, and potentially have potent effects.

3. Machine Learning AISC by Google
Google revealed that it developed, tested, deployed, and used - over the last year - a custom ASIC chip called a Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) specifically for machine learning and tailored to their TensorFlow platform https://cloudplatform.googleblog.com/2016/05/Google-supercharges-machine-learning-tasks-with-custom-chip.html. TPUs deliver 10x better performance per watt for machine learning, leaping ahead 7 years with regards to Moore’s Law. They are currently used by 100 teams in Google and power things like RankBrain, StreetView, and AlphaGo and are being made available to third party developers. Meanwhile machine learning is being applied to controlling Bose-Einstein Condensates http://www.anu.edu.au/news/all-news/artificial-intelligence-replaces-physicists and discover new materials http://www.nature.com/news/can-artificial-intelligence-create-the-next-wonder-material-1.19850.

4. Solar Cells Reach 34.5% Efficiency
A new four-junction solar cell demonstrates non-concentrated light-to-energy conversion efficiency of 34.5%, significantly improving on the previous record holder at 24% http://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-tech/milestone-solar-cell-efficiency-unsw-engineers. As a comparison recent technology roadmaps aimed to achieve 35% by 2050. Multi-junction architectures are more complex and costly than simpler alternatives but the team are working to reduce manufacturing complexity and reduce the cost of such cells to help facilitate broader uptake.

5. Carbon Computing Advances
Akhan Semiconductor is set to announce a diamond integrated circuits, and has demonstrated diamond devices running at 100 GHz with 100nm feature size, due mainly to diamond’s vastly superior thermal conductivity compared to silicon http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1329663. While they wish to revitalise the processor clock race they are focusing initially on power electronics and heat management. Meanwhile a new bilayer graphene-based transistor design also claims the possibility of achieving 100 GHz processing speeds while achieving low-voltage switching http://www.nanowerk.com/nanotechnology-news/newsid=43427.php.

6. Autonomous Vehicles Getting Better
New dynamic planning and control algorithms allow autonomous cars (at least scale models) to powerslide and drift around dirt tracks http://spectrum.ieee.org/cars-that-think/transportation/self-driving/autonomous-mini-rally-car-teaches-itself-to-powerslide. It’ll be interesting to watch this demonstrated in a full-size rally car; such control algorithms will help make autonomous cars safer too. Meanwhile Otto is developing an autonomous self-driving system for the purpose of retrofitting trucks, an attractive, cheaper option for converting existing trucking fleets http://nextbigfuture.com/2016/05/billion-dollar-startup-otto-developing.html.

7. Super-Fast Wireless Internet
Starry, a new Internet service provider from the guy behind failed TV rebroadcaster Aereo, is solving the problem of last-mile high-speed Internet access using their new Starry Router (installed outside the customer’s home) and their own fibered transmitter that is able to serve 600 - 900 routers within a 1km range at speeds of 300Mbps to 1Gbps https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601442/wireless-super-fast-internet-access-is-coming-to-your-home/. As an infrastructure play customer acquisition is $25 instead of $2,500, and this is all made possible due to newer active phased array technologies solving a range of problems including costs, range, and interference. My Australian government National Broadband Network should consider something like this to reduce costs and accelerate roll-out.

8. Compensating for Loss of Mitochondrial Function
Engineering allotropic expression of remaining mitochondrial genes takes another step forward with the recent demonstration of the relocation of another two mitochondrial genes to the cell nucleus with proven targeting to mitochondria in the cell and able to compensate for mitochondria in which these genes have been damaged https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/05/announcing-success-in-the-mitosens-project-crowdfunded-at-lifespanio-in-2015/. Only 8 more genes to go to address this mechanism of aging. In related - and utterly fascinating news - we have the discovery of a eukaryotic single-celled organism that appears to have dispensed with its energy-producing mitochondria and replaced it with a different system acquired from bacteria via lateral gene transfer http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822%2816%2930263-9; I’d love to see whether a multicellular organism like a nematode could be engineered with this replacement.

9. 3D Printed Hair
3D printed polymer strands about 100 microns thick produce a surface of well-defined hair that not only provides a soft, different texture for printed objects but can be used to produce surprising effects http://www.engadget.com/2016/05/16/3d-printed-hair-finds-practical-uses/, as can be seen in the video. By making the hairs vibrate for example you can make objects placed on the surface move over it and follow a specific path, or folded onto itself it can produce motors to make objects perform lateral or rotational movement. Of course opposing hairy surfaces can also function as a type of velcro for certain applications. The video is the killer here - really surprising and very clever.

10. Smartphone Urine Test Device
A new microfluidic urinalysis system ensures that paper-based dip-tests receive the correct amount of urine and consistent lighting levels to enable a smartphone (camera) to analyse colour changes over 30 seconds to 2 minutes and provide an accurate diagnosis for any disease detected https://news.stanford.edu/2016/05/16/stanford-engineers-design-home-urine-test-scan-diseases/. At-home, do-it-yourself, point-of-care diagnostic and medical systems are a hot space undergoing a lot of development and this simple urine analysis system using paper dip sticks with 10 colour-changing pads looks like a very convenient and cheap platform that could take advantage of people developing a range of other paper based tests for other disorders.

SciTech Tip Jar: http://www.scitechdigest.net/p/donate.html___

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2016-05-19 12:43:41 (23 comments; 16 reshares; 63 +1s; )Open 

Genetically Engineering Super-Intelligent Humans

Point
Nautilus has an interesting discussion on the thousands (10k) of genetic variations that contribute to or are correlated with human intelligence, and with single variants being responsible for less than 1 point of IQ http://nautil.us/issue/18/genius/super_intelligent-humans-are-coming. Statistical analysis indicates that when an individual possess just 100 more of these positive variants above the population average then they will enjoy an IQ boost of one standard deviation, or an extra 15 points. Swapping out all 10,000 variants in an individual for the optimal positive variants might, in theory, result in that person having an IQ of 1,000 - if you just go by the statistical analysis. It isn’t really clear whether an IQ this high really has much meaning, especially considering human IQ is quoted as just double or triplet... more »

Genetically Engineering Super-Intelligent Humans

Point
Nautilus has an interesting discussion on the thousands (10k) of genetic variations that contribute to or are correlated with human intelligence, and with single variants being responsible for less than 1 point of IQ http://nautil.us/issue/18/genius/super_intelligent-humans-are-coming. Statistical analysis indicates that when an individual possess just 100 more of these positive variants above the population average then they will enjoy an IQ boost of one standard deviation, or an extra 15 points. Swapping out all 10,000 variants in an individual for the optimal positive variants might, in theory, result in that person having an IQ of 1,000 - if you just go by the statistical analysis. It isn’t really clear whether an IQ this high really has much meaning, especially considering human IQ is quoted as just double or triple that of chimpanzees. Regardless, this analysis makes it seem conservative that we can pass the IQ 200 or 300 mark.

The piece discusses support for this in more detail but if it turns out to be true then well within 10 years we will have the technology to fairly easily ensure any particular human baby conceived via IVF will have a 15 point IQ boost. There will be very real consequences for any country that bans such technology.

Counterpoint
PZ Myers disagrees however and attempts to dismiss the proposal in a thoroughly disparaging and ad hominem manner http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2016/04/05/superbrains-will-not-come-out-of-a-test-tube/. Resisting the urge to dismiss Myers as a buffoon, at a basic level he simply isn’t convinced that boosting absolute human intelligence is a desirable thing, and would rather indirectly boost intelligence as a whole by improving global nutrition and education. His objections boil down to two things. First, that such a thing would be technically impossible; but this seems utterly unrealistic given the rapid pace of technology development in genetics, CRISPR, and embryo editing.

Second, that such a thing would be theoretically impossible, and quotes evolutionary arguments that (i) if it was possible evolution would have already done it, and (ii) humans are so multidimensional that tweaking one variant for one trait invariably involves compromise for other traits; basically that other things in the organism would suffer.

Rebuttal
Stephen Hsu, the author of the original Nautilus post concisely responds to Myer’s counter-arguments with a rebuttal on his private blog here http://infoproc.blogspot.com.au/2016/04/this-is-for-pz-meyers.html. The rebuttal presents some very straight-forward arguments from basic population genetics that support the proposal, clears up Myer’s confusion between genes and variants, states the completely non-controversial fact that cognitive ability is highly heritable, and presents data supporting the fact that there are many thousands of variants responsible for IQ. Myer’s response to this rebuttal was to dismiss Hsu as a dilettante.

Bonus Coverage
Finally, Scott Alexander from SlateStarCodex weighs in to take apart the multidimensionality claim of Myers http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/05/04/myers-race-car-versus-the-general-fitness-factor/. Turns out it is hard to find traits that are traded off against increases in intelligence, which would otherwise be easy to find if the multidimensionality claim were true. People with high IQ live longer, are taller, healthier during childhood, commit less crime, are fitter, have lower rates of stroke, diabetes, and heart disease, and are possibly more attractive. As usual Scott provides additional, substantial, and fascinating thoughts and analysis that are well worth reading.

I’m reminded of a Nick Bostrom quote:
Far from being the smartest possible biological species, we are probably better thought of as the stupidest possible biological species capable of starting a technological civilization—a niche we filled because we got there first, not because we are in any sense optimally adapted to it.

If it is almost trivially possible to grant a person an additional 15 points of IQ with little to no risk of downside, is it unethical not to do so? ___

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2016-05-17 12:43:44 (14 comments; 7 reshares; 27 +1s; )Open 

The Mystery of Consciousness = The Mystery of Matter

This article flips the conventional hard problem of consciousness on its head by suggesting that it is not so much the hard problem of consciousness that is the issue as is the hard problem of matter.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/16/opinion/consciousness-isnt-a-mystery-its-matter.html

This is a refreshing perspective on this most fundamental of all questions and one that I sympathise with.

The hard problem concerns how conscious experiences and raw conscious sensations can arise from physical matter, when the more our knowledge of the brain and its mechanistic function grows, and the more detailed our knowledge of matter becomes, the harder it is to see “where” consciousness resides or “what” role it has or “how” it exists “atop” a physical substrate that appears to have no need of it.

As ... more »

The Mystery of Consciousness = The Mystery of Matter

This article flips the conventional hard problem of consciousness on its head by suggesting that it is not so much the hard problem of consciousness that is the issue as is the hard problem of matter.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/16/opinion/consciousness-isnt-a-mystery-its-matter.html

This is a refreshing perspective on this most fundamental of all questions and one that I sympathise with.

The hard problem concerns how conscious experiences and raw conscious sensations can arise from physical matter, when the more our knowledge of the brain and its mechanistic function grows, and the more detailed our knowledge of matter becomes, the harder it is to see “where” consciousness resides or “what” role it has or “how” it exists “atop” a physical substrate that appears to have no need of it.

As the article points out we’re caught in an incredibly strong belief that we actually know more about the physical, about matter, than we really do. As powerfully descriptive and predictive as our neuroscience, biology, chemistry, and ultimately physics is, none of it tells us anything about the intrinsic nature of the matter that comprises physical structures. Of course, there is a separate debate here about how we interpret, and how we trust the tools and models with which we probe reality. The hard problem is not what consciousness is, it’s what matter is, what the physical is.

I disagree with the article where the author claims there are two groups of people: dualists who believe consciousness is non-physical stuff and eliminativists who believe everything is physical and deny the existence of consciousness. For years I’ve thought both positions are absurd and that there is a third option: everything is physical but our knowledge of the physical, of the fundamental properties of matter, is woefully incomplete, that there is something else about matter, about the physical that is responsible for - or just is - consciousness.

Of course this third option is that which is promoted by the author and the reason this piece resonated with me. And it was this third option that I was getting at, that I was attempting to articulate (poorly) in my previous essays on consciousness here https://plus.google.com/u/0/+MarkBruce/posts/3FA1C5xWg1B and here https://plus.google.com/u/0/+MarkBruce/posts/gEce5bdDjGt and which some people thought worthy of derision if not ridicule.

The piece doesn’t mention panpsychism at all but it is certainly a related philosophical concept. I’ll finish with a few choice quotes from the piece:

We know what conscious experience is because the having is the knowing: Having conscious experience is knowing what it is.

The nature of physical stuff is mysterious except insofar as consciousness is itself a form of physical stuff.

“We know nothing about the intrinsic quality of physical events, except when these are mental events that we directly experience.” - Bertrand Russell___

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2016-05-16 14:22:15 (7 comments; 12 reshares; 38 +1s; )Open 

Swarm: A Blockchain Contender for the Distributed Web

Swarm is an Ethereum implementation for a decentralised, distributed version of the Web, facilitating key services such as content storage and distribution via an inherently peer-to-peer storage and serving system http://swarm-gateways.net/bzz:/swarm/.

Swarm is designed to be DDOS resistant, zero downtime, fault tolerant, censorship resistant, and self sustaining, and uses the Ethereum blockchain for domain name resolution and other components of necessary infrastructure. Much like the InterPlanetary FIle System (IPFS) implementation that attempts to provide a similar capability, systems like this just look like the future. The ideas, benefits, and underlying technology are just too damn good, innovation and technical evolution is currently extremely rapid, and such platforms possess transformative capacity once they start... more »

Swarm: A Blockchain Contender for the Distributed Web

Swarm is an Ethereum implementation for a decentralised, distributed version of the Web, facilitating key services such as content storage and distribution via an inherently peer-to-peer storage and serving system http://swarm-gateways.net/bzz:/swarm/.

Swarm is designed to be DDOS resistant, zero downtime, fault tolerant, censorship resistant, and self sustaining, and uses the Ethereum blockchain for domain name resolution and other components of necessary infrastructure. Much like the InterPlanetary FIle System (IPFS) implementation that attempts to provide a similar capability, systems like this just look like the future. The ideas, benefits, and underlying technology are just too damn good, innovation and technical evolution is currently extremely rapid, and such platforms possess transformative capacity once they start to mature.

___

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2016-05-16 13:52:14 (10 comments; 11 reshares; 38 +1s; )Open 

Recent Natural Selection in Humans

+Stephen Hsu presents a recent paper demonstrating evidence for very recent natural selection of various traits in humans http://infoproc.blogspot.com.au/2016/05/evidence-for-very-recent-natural.html. This shows humans have been subject to strong selection pressure in just the last 2,000 years, which seems pretty incredible.

Adult height, birth size, female hip size, and birth weight are all traits that seem to be closely related such that selecting for just one of these factors selects for the others as well.

Recent Natural Selection in Humans

+Stephen Hsu presents a recent paper demonstrating evidence for very recent natural selection of various traits in humans http://infoproc.blogspot.com.au/2016/05/evidence-for-very-recent-natural.html. This shows humans have been subject to strong selection pressure in just the last 2,000 years, which seems pretty incredible.

Adult height, birth size, female hip size, and birth weight are all traits that seem to be closely related such that selecting for just one of these factors selects for the others as well.___

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2016-05-15 11:20:10 (5 comments; 16 reshares; 87 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 20/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/05/industrial-synthetic-enzymes.html

Industrial synthetic enzymes, Mimicking protein evolution, Topological spintronics, Smooth telepresence robots, Silk preservation technique, Regrowing cartilage, Improving prosthetic hands, Parsey McParseface, Graphene light harvesting, RNA life origins.

1. New Enzymes for Industrial Synthesis
A bacterium with enzymes that make it resistant to heavy metals has been co-opted to produce a bacterium that secretes quantum dots into solution that can then be purified by simple centrifugation http://www1.lehigh.edu/news/quantum-dots-nature. These are cadmium- or lead-sulfide quantum dots, with plans to create more varieties for a range of applications in electronics, photonics, and sensing, and produced via conventional... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 20/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/05/industrial-synthetic-enzymes.html

Industrial synthetic enzymes, Mimicking protein evolution, Topological spintronics, Smooth telepresence robots, Silk preservation technique, Regrowing cartilage, Improving prosthetic hands, Parsey McParseface, Graphene light harvesting, RNA life origins.

1. New Enzymes for Industrial Synthesis
A bacterium with enzymes that make it resistant to heavy metals has been co-opted to produce a bacterium that secretes quantum dots into solution that can then be purified by simple centrifugation http://www1.lehigh.edu/news/quantum-dots-nature. These are cadmium- or lead-sulfide quantum dots, with plans to create more varieties for a range of applications in electronics, photonics, and sensing, and produced via conventional fermentation processes with fine control over nanometer sizes. In other new a new enzyme AbyU has been discovered in bacteria living at the bottom of the ocean that is able to catalyse the industrially important Diels-Alder reaction http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2016/may/enzyme-antibiotic-discovery.html.

2. Mimicking Evolution to Develop Novel Proteins
In related protein engineering news a new technique called SEWING has been developed that recombines portions of existing proteins to produce new structures and functions https://news.unchealthcare.org/news/2016/may/unc-school-of-medicine-scientists-digitally-mimic-evolution-to-create-novel-proteins. This is a tool for creating proteins that don’t exist in nature and have structures that allow new functions and reactions that weren’t previously possible. The evolutionary process starts with computer simulations, and in the latest demonstration mapped 50,000 variably stitched proteins to arrive at an optimised sample of 21 structures that were then synthesised in the lab and experimentally verified to have the predicted structure.

3. Spintronics from New Topological Insulators
New topological insulators made from bonding layers of bismuth selenide with magnetic europium sulfide manages to retain all of the properties of a topological insulator but with strong magnetic properties, at room temperature http://news.mit.edu/2016/unexpected-magnetic-effect-thin-film-materials-0509. Such new materials have promising applications in realising spintronics as well as new magnetic memories with possible molecular scale information storage. In related news, graphene has been made magnetic by inserting hydrogen atoms into specific locations of the carbon lattice, and resulting in graphene now also functioning as a promising spintronic material http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1329572.

4. Silky Smooth Telepresence Robots
Disney research impresses yet again with the demonstration of a telepresence robotic system that is powered by a hybrid hydrostatic transmission system that enables the user to feel immersed in the remote environment via (i) stereoscopic cameras and (ii) head and arm actuation that responds with multiple degrees of freedom and force-feedback https://www.disneyresearch.com/publication/haptic-telepresence-robot/. The system demonstrated physical human interaction and very fine & detailed object manipulation. Meanwhile RE2 Robotics also demonstrated a very impressive remote robotic operation system http://www.gadgetify.com/re2-imitative-controller-robots/.

5. Silk Preservation Technology
Tufts University has demonstrated a couple of silk preservation technology applications. First, an ultra-thin coating of biocompatible silk proves very effective at extending the room temperature shelf-life of a range of different fruits, prolonging freshness and slowing ripening https://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/silk-keeps-fruit-fresh-without-refrigeration. Second, blood samples can be stabilised for long periods of time, even after 84 days, and even at high (45C) temperatures after being encapsulated in air-dried silk protein http://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/silk-stabilizes-blood-samples-months-high-temperatures.

6. Regrowing Cartilage
Regrowing cartilage has proven to be one of those persistent problems people have struggled with. A new bio-glass material that mimics the shock-absorbing and load bearing qualities of real cartilage has the potential to encourage cartilage cells to regrow to help reform and repair damaged areas of cartilage, while the material degrades and disappears over time http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_12-5-2016-9-57-13. The material can be 3D printed to customer or personalised dimensions and lead applications include replacing damaged intervertebral discs and knee cartilage and could be transformational given the limitations of current materials and implants. Meanwhile a new injectable gel helps generate blood vessels https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601416/injectable-gel-generates-new-blood-vessels/.

7. Improvements for Robotic & Prosthetic Hands
Yet another DARPA project is demonstrating natural control of a prosthetic hand and arm by a human amputee, this time utilising Myo armbands to pick up signals from the upper arm and translat them into precise hand movements and facilitated by an osseointegration surgical procedure that secured a metal utility rod to the upper arm bone http://gizmodo.com/darpas-mind-controlled-arm-will-make-you-wish-you-were-1776130193. In related news that may feed into prosthetics like the above, machine learning techniques are helping to produce robotic hands that are approaching human-like dexterity http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/05/09/this-five-fingered-robot-hand-learns-to-get-a-grip-on-its-own/.

8. SyntaxNet & Parsey McParseface
Google opensourced SyntaxNet, a neural network implemented in TensorFlow that provides a foundation for Natural Language Understanding systems, as well as an English language parser called Parsey McParseface (the most accurate such model in the world with 94% accuracy) that can be used to analyse English text http://googleresearch.blogspot.com.au/2016/05/announcing-syntaxnet-worlds-most.html. These tools analyse the linguistic structure of language, explain the functional role of words in sentences, and can be used to automatically extract information, translate text, and better determine the meaning of text.

9. Efficient Light Harvesting with Graphene
By creating a Morie superlattice of layered graphene and boron-nitride researchers created material states that are very efficient at converting light into electrcity, with up to five electrons being kicked to flow through the material with each photon http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/05/13/uw-researchers-unleash-graphene-tiger-for-more-efficient-optoelectronics/. I really liked the exploitation of geometry in this work as it reminded me of this great Numberphile video discussing dot patterns and the surprising superstructures that can result https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAja2jp1VjE.

10. RNA Life Origins Gains More Evidence
While it has been previously shown that 2 of the 4 bases in RNA could be made via natural chemical reactions on early Earth, it has only recently been demonstrated that the other 2 bases can also be made via similar natural chemical reactions on early Earth http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/05/rna-world-inches-closer-explaining-origins-life. In this case the only requirements were hydrogen, cyanide, water, and a little bit of acid; it turned out to be far simpler than previously thought. The next piece of the puzzle will be finding out how the 4 bases linked together to form the first RNA molecules whose autocatalytic self-replicating behaviour could begin being selected for by evolution.

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2016-05-10 12:28:46 (7 comments; 1 reshares; 11 +1s; )Open 

[Aristotle], On Trolling

Great share / find by Anders on the nature and categorisation of the phenomenon of Trolling and those who practice it, and written in an eclectic, engaging style that is hard to find these days. Found via Anders' G+ share of the summary of his blog, here http://aleph.se/andart2/academia/aristotle-on-trolling/.

As the OP requires a couple of extra clicks to get the full text, a more direct link to the On Trolling article is here: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=10293503&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S2053447716000099 and just click PDF or HTML to read the whole thing.

And as helpfully reminded by Anders, Harry Frankfurt's classic article On Bullshit is also a worthwhile read in this context: http://www.stoa.org.uk/topics/bullshit/pdf/on-bullshit.pdf

I think Aristotle got trolling right: http://aleph.se/andart2/academia/aristotle-on-trolling/___[Aristotle], On Trolling

Great share / find by Anders on the nature and categorisation of the phenomenon of Trolling and those who practice it, and written in an eclectic, engaging style that is hard to find these days. Found via Anders' G+ share of the summary of his blog, here http://aleph.se/andart2/academia/aristotle-on-trolling/.

As the OP requires a couple of extra clicks to get the full text, a more direct link to the On Trolling article is here: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=10293503&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S2053447716000099 and just click PDF or HTML to read the whole thing.

And as helpfully reminded by Anders, Harry Frankfurt's classic article On Bullshit is also a worthwhile read in this context: http://www.stoa.org.uk/topics/bullshit/pdf/on-bullshit.pdf

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2016-05-08 07:34:05 (13 comments; 31 reshares; 78 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 19/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/05/towards-artificial-womb-printed.html

Towards artificial wombs, Printed terahertz lens, Autonomous robot surgeons, Cloud quantum computing, Machine learning development, Rejuvenation updates, Biomimicking bee navigation, Modular microfluidics, Femtosecond clock synchronisation, Holographic displays.

1. Towards an Artificial Womb
An artificial placenta has been developed that successfully kept alive extremely premature baby lambs outside the womb http://labblog.uofmhealth.org/health-tech/artificial-placenta-holds-promise-for-extremely-premature-infants. The device utilises extracorporeal membrane oxygenation to help oxygenate the tissues when the lungs are not fully developed; in humans this might allow the current limit of 24 weeks to be pushed back... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 19/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/05/towards-artificial-womb-printed.html

Towards artificial wombs, Printed terahertz lens, Autonomous robot surgeons, Cloud quantum computing, Machine learning development, Rejuvenation updates, Biomimicking bee navigation, Modular microfluidics, Femtosecond clock synchronisation, Holographic displays.

1. Towards an Artificial Womb
An artificial placenta has been developed that successfully kept alive extremely premature baby lambs outside the womb http://labblog.uofmhealth.org/health-tech/artificial-placenta-holds-promise-for-extremely-premature-infants. The device utilises extracorporeal membrane oxygenation to help oxygenate the tissues when the lungs are not fully developed; in humans this might allow the current limit of 24 weeks to be pushed back significantly. Meanwhile new protocols allow human embryos to reach the 2 week stage of development for the first time, and was only cut short due to established ethical policies that will hopefully be overturned http://www.theverge.com/2016/5/4/11591318/cambridge-rockefeller-university-human-embryo-study-ethics-limit. I can see this gap continuing to shrink.

2. 3D Printed Terahertz Lens
A lens for focusing the terahertz spectrum of light has been developed by 3D printing a metamaterial structure with a gradient refractive index https://3dprint.com/132220/northwestern-terahertz-lens/. This method used a curable photopolymer to build up the precise features of the lens, which might be useful in imaging, security, and biological applications. In other 3D printing news a better recipe has been developed for 3D printed bones http://inbt.jhu.edu/2016/05/04/building-a-better-recipe-for-3d-printed-bones/.

3. Autonomous Robot Surgeons
In certain surgical tasks robots are now outperforming humans, as demonstrated in recent work in which a robot stitched up a pig’s small intestine http://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/robotics/medical-robots/autonomous-robot-surgeon-bests-human-surgeons-in-world-first. This was done on both intestine samples and also on living anesthetised pigs; the intestines repaired by robots had more consistent stitches and were more resistant to leaks. This is considered a breakthrough as the first time a robotic system has outperformed human surgeons on soft tissue repair work.

4. Quantum Computing in the Cloud
IBM launched a new cloud service to provide users everywhere with access to their 5-qubit quantum computer processor http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/49661.wss. While the current system is not a universal quantum computer the main purpose here is to provide the scientific community with access to the system in order to help accelerate innovations in the field and discover new applications for the technology.

5. Latest Machine Learning Developments
Machine learning is well on the path to ubiquity with Qualcomm’s announcement of a new deep learning SDK for their Snapdragon 820 processors, which will find their way into many if not most mobile devices launched this year and next https://www.qualcomm.com/news/releases/2016/05/02/qualcomm-helps-make-your-mobile-devices-smarter-new-snapdragon-machine. Nvidia demonstrates a deep learning system that taught an autonomous car how to drive after watching humans drive for just 72 hours, and which continuously learns after deployment http://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/nvidia-gpu-driverless-car/. And another deep learning system suggests autonomous cars would respond to new situations in a similar manner to humans https://www.kuleuven.be/english/news/2016/machines-can-learn-to-respond-to-new-situations-like-human-beings-would.

6. Latest Rejuvenation Biotech Updates
FightAging! had a trio of interesting rejuvenation developments this week. First, another senolytic drug candidate working via a different mechanism to kill senescent cells https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/05/abt-737-is-another-new-senolytic-drug-candidate-working-via-bcl-w-bcl-xl-and-induced-apoptosis/. Second, a new study shows how macrophages repair broken and leaky blood vessels in the brain, suggesting another benefit of boosting macrophage activity https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/05/macrophages-repair-broken-capillaries-in-the-brain/. Finally, an interesting new drug that enhances autophagy in the cell, boosting cellular cleanup of damage and wastes https://www.fightaging.org/archives/2016/05/auten-67-as-an-example-of-an-autophagy-enhancing-drug-candidate/.

7. Bee Navigation for Drones
The latest improvements in computer models of how bees navigate the world using vision to detect movement in the world around them and avoiding collisions look set to provide superior navigation and object avoidance abilities to robots and autonomous drones http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/news/nr/bee-model-1.573018. The new work provides a system able to detect both motion direction and motion speed using the optical flow of the visual world around them. Definitely looking forward to seeing autonomous drones using this to zip effortlessly through a forest.

8. Modular Plug-n-Play Microfluidics & Lablets
Microfluidics takes a step forward with the development of standard modular components including microvalves and micropumps that can be reliably used plug-n-play style to develop and evolve different microfluidic circuits and applications http://www.research.a-star.edu.sg/research/7504/small-devices-make-a-big-impact. Drilling down to smaller scales electronic microlabs (lablets) measuring 140 micrometers can control specific chemical reactions with voltage codes designed to enable an interesting platform for chemical evolution http://rubin.rub.de/en/featured-topic-when-science-and-science-fiction-merge/electronic-micro-labs-control-chemical; this is a fascinating chemical synthesis and control platform.

9. Femtosecond Clock Synchronisation
DARPA has a femtosecond clock synchronisation project (QuASAR & PULSE) underway aimed at facilitating advanced applications in ultraprecise satellite formations and radio astronomy http://nextbigfuture.com/2016/05/femtosecond-clock-synchronization-for.html. The most recent work demonstrated the most accurate clock ever with uncertainty measuring 2 parts in 10^18, or 1 second in 14 billion years, giving 10,000 times better performance than existing GPS clocks, and with novel time and motion compensations in both free space and atmospheric conditions.

10. Flexible Holographic Displays
HoloFlex is a new flexible smartphone with a holographic display http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/consumer-electronics/gadgets/holoflex-a-flexible-smartphone-with-a-holographic-display. The display is a 1080p flexible OLED screen with a layer of 3D printed flexible lenses - over 16,000 individual lenses - that enable a holographic lightfield display and 3D glasses-free images over a 35 degree field of view. An interesting display platform to keep an eye on.

SciTech Tip Jar: http://www.scitechdigest.net/p/donate.html___

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2016-05-07 07:04:27 (7 comments; 11 reshares; 30 +1s; )Open 

The Psychology of Procrastination & The Fear of Not Trying

A couple of recent excellent TED talks discuss procrastination and related quirks of psychology. First, the main talk below The surprising habits of original thinkers by Adam Grant discusses the three key habits of original thinkers and the benefits of trying to learn from or imitate them:

1. Being late to the party, and the benefits of both learning from others and doing it better, and also procrastinating to drive creativity.
2. Feeling doubt and fear, but in the sense of doubt in ideas and not doubt in the self, and being more afraid of not trying than trying and failing.
3. Having lots and lots of bad ideas, because the greatest success tends to accrue to those who fail the most because they try the most.

Other key take-aways include (i) vuja de and the knack for looking at a common thing... more »

The Psychology of Procrastination & The Fear of Not Trying

A couple of recent excellent TED talks discuss procrastination and related quirks of psychology. First, the main talk below The surprising habits of original thinkers by Adam Grant discusses the three key habits of original thinkers and the benefits of trying to learn from or imitate them:

1. Being late to the party, and the benefits of both learning from others and doing it better, and also procrastinating to drive creativity.
2. Feeling doubt and fear, but in the sense of doubt in ideas and not doubt in the self, and being more afraid of not trying than trying and failing.
3. Having lots and lots of bad ideas, because the greatest success tends to accrue to those who fail the most because they try the most.

Other key take-aways include (i) vuja de and the knack for looking at a common thing and seeing it afresh with possibility, and (ii) our biggest regrets are not of our actions, but of our inactions.

The second, related, and excellent talk is Inside the mind of a procrastinator by Tim Urban of the WaitButWhy blog https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arj7oStGLkU. The key take-away concerns identifying the two types of procrastination:

1. Procrastination when there are deadlines, which can generally be managed and dealt with.
2. Procrastination on things for which there are no deadlines, which are often ignored and chronically neglected by most people. This includes things such as developing a career, seeing family, exercising, taking care of personal health, working on relationships, and other important life goals. These commonly extend out forever via the typical “I’ll get around to it one day” delusional throw-away line.

One of the strategies to consider when you catch yourself procrastinating on type 2 goals that lack deadlines is simply to erect artificial deadlines. ___

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2016-05-06 12:32:20 (5 comments; 13 reshares; 48 +1s; )Open 

360 Degree SpaceX Rocket Landing

Just saw one of the best and most inspiring 360 degree videos yet: SpaceX rocket re-entry and landing on a drone ship at sea. Looking around the deck, then up at the rocket in the sky, and following it down as it gently lands on the deck . . . just wow. Gave me shivers.

And then I watched it again in tilt-your-head VR mode on mobile with Google Cardboard. Do yourself a favour and strap on a VR headset if you have one. Click and drag on desktop with your mouse if you don't :)

360 Degree SpaceX Rocket Landing

Just saw one of the best and most inspiring 360 degree videos yet: SpaceX rocket re-entry and landing on a drone ship at sea. Looking around the deck, then up at the rocket in the sky, and following it down as it gently lands on the deck . . . just wow. Gave me shivers.

And then I watched it again in tilt-your-head VR mode on mobile with Google Cardboard. Do yourself a favour and strap on a VR headset if you have one. Click and drag on desktop with your mouse if you don't :)___

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2016-05-02 13:54:07 (2 comments; 4 reshares; 23 +1s; )Open 

Only The Dead

Honest, brutal, and confronting. I watched this documentary by chance last night, never having heard about it or the main journalist involved in making it. Michael Ware (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Ware) spent years in Iraq covering the war; he was there before it began, gained the trust of insurgents, was fed video and material direct from al-Zarqawi, toured with US Marines, lived in some of the most hostile cities in existence, and bore witness to the inane brutality of a very different kind of war. Invaluable as a perspective, narrative, and recent history I'd not seen before. 

Only The Dead

Honest, brutal, and confronting. I watched this documentary by chance last night, never having heard about it or the main journalist involved in making it. Michael Ware (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Ware) spent years in Iraq covering the war; he was there before it began, gained the trust of insurgents, was fed video and material direct from al-Zarqawi, toured with US Marines, lived in some of the most hostile cities in existence, and bore witness to the inane brutality of a very different kind of war. Invaluable as a perspective, narrative, and recent history I'd not seen before. ___

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2016-05-01 07:52:15 (4 comments; 19 reshares; 91 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 18/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/05/exoplanet-imaging-dna-nanothermometers.html

Proteins per gene, Exoplanet imaging, DNA nanothermometers, Protein assembly tools, Versatile optogenetics, 3D printing robot spiders, Deep learning, Sensory prosthetic hand, Superfluid helium blackholes, Tissue regeneration.

1. One Gene, Many Proteins
It used to be thought that each gene encoded for and produced just one single protein; this latest ambitious study has blown that paradigm apart and made it very apparent that there is far more nuance and complexity here than first thought https://www.quantamagazine.org/20160426-one-gene-many-proteins/. This thorough study looked at 1,500 human genes, found how many produced multiple proteins, and ran binding studies to 15,000 other proteins to determine whether... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 18/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/05/exoplanet-imaging-dna-nanothermometers.html

Proteins per gene, Exoplanet imaging, DNA nanothermometers, Protein assembly tools, Versatile optogenetics, 3D printing robot spiders, Deep learning, Sensory prosthetic hand, Superfluid helium blackholes, Tissue regeneration.

1. One Gene, Many Proteins
It used to be thought that each gene encoded for and produced just one single protein; this latest ambitious study has blown that paradigm apart and made it very apparent that there is far more nuance and complexity here than first thought https://www.quantamagazine.org/20160426-one-gene-many-proteins/. This thorough study looked at 1,500 human genes, found how many produced multiple proteins, and ran binding studies to 15,000 other proteins to determine whether different proteins from the same gene shared the same or different functions; they generated surprisingly variable results. Different proteins can be formed from the same gene by combining different gene segments (exons) in different sequences. This will ideally be repeated for all genes and proteins. I think the take-away here is simply recognising such seemingly chaotic complexity as a measure of evolutionary robustness.

2. Imaging Exoplanets at 1km Resolution
A new proposal for a space-based telescope positioned 11 times further away than Pluto utilises the gravitational lensing of our Sun to achieve kilometer scale resolution of candidate exoplanets orbiting other stars in our local vicinity https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601331/a-space-mission-to-the-gravitational-focus-of-the-sun/. All you need is (i) a means to block out the Sun’s light, (ii) account for the Sun’s corona, (iii) improve pointing accuracy by an order of magnitude to 0.1 nanoradians, (iv) design a propulsion system able to account for orbital motion, (v) better software and optics to account for blurring, and (vi) filtering light from the planet’s parent star. Do this and you’ll get 10,000 times more light from the exoplanet. Sounds like a worthwhile project. I only wonder about such a telescope being overtaken by technological development during a lengthy commute to 600AU or so.

3. DNA Origami Nanothermometers
Specific DNA sequences can now be used to produce DNA origami structures that are programmed to function as nanothermometers http://www.nouvelles.umontreal.ca/udem-news/news/20160427-chemists-use-dna-to-build-the-worlds-tiniest-thermometer.html. The technique produces DNA structures that fold and unfold at very specific temperatures and adding optical reporter molecules results in 5nm wide structures that produce an easily-detectable signal as a function of temperature. Applications in intra-cellular biology, testing biological machines and enzyme “overheating”, and in nanoelectronics to measure temperatures of very small areas.

4. Advanced Protein-Based Tools
First, a new set of modular proteins has been designed and tested that can be customised to specifically bind arbitrary RNA sequences, and so allowing a versatile mechanism to control and image specific RNAs in the cell http://news.mit.edu/2016/controlling-rna-living-cells-0425. This is a versatile modular code for generating custom proteins able to bind specific RNA sequences from 6 to 18 bases long, with applications in future molecular assembly lines and precise measurements of how often RNA is being translated in the cell. Second, another engineered protein naturally self-assembles carbon buckminster fullerene molecules into ordered lattices and suggests a pathway to proteins able to organise nanomaterials by design http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-04/dc-rca042516.php.

5. More Versatile Optogenetics
Optogenetics is increasingly being used to control pain in test animals by using viruses to functionalise neurons responsible for conveying pain and sensation signals, and then using light - either implanted or in this case external to the skin for peripheral neurons - to turn pain transmission on or off in very localised and specific areas https://www.mcgill.ca/newsroom/channels/news/brighter-prospects-chronic-pain-260515. New optogenetics tools now also include the ability to be activated by red light that can penetrate deeper into tissues, and also be combined with other proteins and receptors to drive other cellular processes with light http://ist.ac.at/news-media/news/news-detail/article/red-light-controls-signaling-in-human-cells/6/.

6. 3D Printing with Robot Spiders
A new prototype 3D printing technology involves the use of robotic spiders able to move around with an in-built portable 3D printer, extruding plastic instead of silk in specific patterns to collaboratively build up printed structures - accuracy of localisation is a key hurdle https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601330/robot-spiders-weave-products-from-plastic-in-a-new-spin-on-3-d-printing/. In related 3D printing news the rise of custom-made, personalised, 3D printed medical implants is accelerating and increasing in sophistication https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601305/the-key-to-repairing-your-bones-may-come-out-of-a-printer/.

7. Interesting Deep Learning Developments
A new platform called OpenAI Gym has been launched as a toolkit for developing and comparing reinforcement learning algorithms for applications such as teaching agents to play games and navigate environments https://gym.openai.com/. Movidius has released a neural net accelerator called Fathom on a USB stick that uses only 1 watt of power to run powerful, typically computationally intensive image recognition neural networks with wide applications including allowing every robot to have cutting-edge vision capabilities http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/computing/embedded-systems/movidius-puts-neural-network-on-a-usb-stick. Meanwhile Drive.ai launched from Stanford’s AI Lab to test autonomous vehicle systems based on deep learning http://spectrum.ieee.org/cars-that-think/transportation/self-driving/driveai-brings-deep-learning-to-selfdriving-cars, and talking of autonomous vehicles self-driving trucks are really building momentum https://www.eutruckplatooning.com/News/495554.aspx?.

8. HAPTIX: The Prosthetic Hand that Can Feel
Here’s a good overview of efforts within DARPA’s HAPTIX program to develop prosthetic hands that allow amputees to regain a sense of touch and sensation, at least through some of the most recent prototypes http://spectrum.ieee.org/biomedical/bionics/creating-a-prosthetic-hand-that-can-feel. The latest prototypes incorporate direct neural interfaces that convey tactile sensory information from sensors located on the prosthetic hand, and resulting in the patient consciously perceiving sensations from those areas as if it were their own hand, and drastically improving sensitive tactile manipulation tasks from 43% to 93% success rate. Slowly getting towards a system that makes the person momentarily forget they lost the hand.

9. Blackholes, Superfluid Helium, & Phonons
New insights into the existence and behaviour of Hawking radiation at Blackhole event horizons are being made with related phenomena involving rapidly rotating superfluid helium and phonons http://www.sciencealert.com/physicists-have-created-a-black-hole-in-the-lab-and-it-could-finally-confirm-the-existence-of-hawking-radiation. The rapidly rotating superfluid helium forms a barrier through which sound waves should not be able to leave, yet the experiment detected phonons, small packets of sound wave energy, leaking out of this sonic blackhole as a sonic analogue to Hawking radiation leaking from a conventional blackhole. The work is undergoing peer review, confirmation, and debate.

10. Regeneration of Brain and Other Tissues
Recent experiments demonstrate that simply inserting a microneedle into the hippocampus of mice with Alzheimer’s Disease helps induce the hippocampus to regenerate, repair damage, and reduce the beta-amyloid plaques characteristic of the disease http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-04/ctco-mii042616.php. Another recent study demonstrates the use of a cocktail of nine different chemicals able to transform skin cells into beating heart or neural stem cells (different cocktail for each), that when transplanted into animals helped to regenerate damage and restore normal function to those organs https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160428152117.htm.

SciTech Tip Jar: http://www.scitechdigest.net/p/donate.html
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2016-04-28 14:17:10 (25 comments; 4 reshares; 51 +1s; )Open 

Halo 5: The Clunky Compromised Crapshoot
An overdue rant.

I was running towards where I thought the fighting would be, across a huge expansive map hosting a 24-person multiplayer game when I just stopped, in the middle of a wide open area, and just stared at the screen. Conflicting thoughts swirled through my head as I felt dull, listless, and wondering why the fuck I was bothering. I recognised a profound feeling of boredom, in what was supposed to be a fast-paced next-gen first person shooter. I finally admitted to myself that Halo 5 was simply a shit game in so many obnoxious little ways. 343 Industries had achieved the seemingly impossible by actually managing to make a first person shooter that induced boredom in the player. I put the controller down, leaned over, and turned the console off.

Halo has been a big part of my life over the years and has been my go-to... more »

Halo 5: The Clunky Compromised Crapshoot
An overdue rant.

I was running towards where I thought the fighting would be, across a huge expansive map hosting a 24-person multiplayer game when I just stopped, in the middle of a wide open area, and just stared at the screen. Conflicting thoughts swirled through my head as I felt dull, listless, and wondering why the fuck I was bothering. I recognised a profound feeling of boredom, in what was supposed to be a fast-paced next-gen first person shooter. I finally admitted to myself that Halo 5 was simply a shit game in so many obnoxious little ways. 343 Industries had achieved the seemingly impossible by actually managing to make a first person shooter that induced boredom in the player. I put the controller down, leaned over, and turned the console off.

Halo has been a big part of my life over the years and has been my go-to game ever since the series first launched 15 years ago. I’ve spent uncounted hours in campaign and orders of magnitude more in multiplayer and enjoyed some of the most thrilling, hilarious, and socially enjoyable gaming of my life. No other game comes close to the hold this series and its idiosyncratic gameplay mechanic has held over me. I love the Grand Theft Auto series too, but my time spent playing in those worlds runs a very distant second to Halo.

The final installment on last generation consoles, on the Xbox 360, was Halo 4 and while I still managed to get a lot of hours in and enjoyment out of the game I did feel it was a step backwards for the series and for the core gameplay mechanic in general. Skill was still required, but less so than before, with random events and factors such as encountering opponents with unexpected weapons and armour abilities tending to introduce a large element of luck into encounters in which right place, right time / wrong place wrong time played a noticeable role in deciding outcomes rather than being able to use skill and cunning to make the best of most novel situations.

I’ve played many games on the Xbox One since it launched and in particular fell in love with a competitive first person shooter, Titanfall, for which I clocked up many enjoyable, thrilling, and thoroughly amusing hours. But I maintained a soft spot for Halo and eagerly awaited the release of the latest version - the first for the Xbox One - in 343 Industries’ much anticipated Halo 5. I hoped that 343 would learn from some of the things they did in Halo 4 and engineer Halo 5 to be a significant improvement.

Unfortunately, after clocking up a great many hours I’m left with the inescapable conclusion that they embraced Halo 4’s failings with gusto, massively expanded all the things Halo 4 suffered from and introduced a bunch of new mechanics that together ensure that Halo 5 is and will always be a clunky compromised crapshoot.

For the first time ever a Halo game actually drove me away. I went on hiatus a couple of times for a month or more, but came back to see if anything had changed or been fixed or just to berate myself for being so judgemental and to give it another chance. But over six months since first release of Halo 5 I can finally say with certainty that I will never play the game again.

I actually snapped the game disc in two in order to prevent me from ever even trying to play it again. As bad as it was Halo 5 had a funny addiction quality about it, taunting and luring me back to play it, and yet always leaving me frustrated, annoyed, and disappointed every time I played. I put this down to my history with the franchise and many years enjoyment causing me to keep hoping beyond hope that it would get better. To break this destructive and wasteful cycle the disc itself had to be destroyed.

Observations and General Frustrations

➤ Couldn’t play for 2 days after purchase. To even start playing the game the installation process requires a 9 GB download and for whatever reason, given the time I was able to download and the general strain on servers at launch it was over two days before it finally finished and I was finally able to start playing.

➤ Gameplay just feels clunky and constricted. Of course you’re portrayed as a supersoldier, but in reality have to run around as if you’re a fragile little petal that breaks in a slight breeze. Aside from that the aiming mechanic feels . . . off . . . and wrong for some reason. Some people put this down to the deadzones on the triggers being larger. It feels like you have a much narrower field of view than before, a boxed-in feeling, and much reduced situational awareness - all crucial factors for any FPS. Many people have said that you just need to get used to the new mechanic but this amounts to just easy excuses when the changes made to such a crucial aspect of gameplay were deliberate and worthy of criticism and complaint. Personally I suspect that these myopic changes to the fundamental feel and mechanics of the game were a result of compromises to ensure the game always ran at 60 frames per second; that the entire game was compromised just to achieve this silly and irrelevant technical feat.

➤ The radar or motion sensor has been completely changed and limited to the point of near uselessness. It is very short range and results in constant surprise and should either be turned off completely or restored to the previous Halo setting. What is worse/weird is that it works perfectly through floors and ceilings: somehow the “sensor technology” can’t detect enemies rushing directly towards you yet can perfectly sense those beneath a foot of concrete under you.

➤ Other gameplay annoyances include the vehicle boarding mechanic and hijacking zone making it harder and more random to tackle vehicles, the vehicles themselves suffer from pathetic physics resulting in a light and floaty feeling (worse than previous titles) and the propensity to roll at the drop of a hat, grenades are overpowered mini-nukes, the utterly stupid inclusion of gaps in levels that you can fall to your death through, melee kills after dying (serve lag?), difficulty in knowing from where and which direction you were killed from (especially from distance), and a mongoose quad bike that happens to pack insta-kill cannons. And the invisibility power-up perk is so stupidly overpowered that it beggars belief it was actually included in the game.

➤ Spawning is awful. You can literally spawn after dying and die again within 2 seconds. I’ve seen grenades land at people’s feet as they spawned. I’ve had people spawn right behind me and kill me.

➤ This is the first title to lack a split-screen option for 2 - 4 player action at home in the same room. Previously this feature alone granted the game a wonderfully social aspect, inspired a great many hours of laughter and fun times with friends. It’s absence is profoundly disappointing and is, I suspect, another compromise to eek out a guaranteed 60fps from the game.

➤ My preference for multiplayer gameplay is Big Team Battle (8 vs 8) games and yet the game launched without a BTB list at all. This was finally rectified 4 or so months later.

➤ Some playlists - typically the ones I preferred - were frequently empty or just refused to find me a game to play. This is an example of the game designers compromising on the time to get people into a game vs the risk of latency or lag while playing. But the fact that BTB very quickly became unplayable for me, and occasionally even conventional Team Slayer, refusing to find any players or join me into any game indicates that (i) the matchmaking mechanic is sorely broken or (ii) players had pretty much abandoned the game and the numbers available in the pool were just too low to make a game.

➤ Warzone mode is an epic crapshoot. The maps are too big and you can regularly encounter long stretches of time without finding any opposing players. REQ bonus points (for “purchasing” power weapons, vehicles, and upgrades) accrue to those who need these perks the least. Typically results in games regularly becoming terribly unbalanced that finish with one team double the score of the other; I’ve regularly been in games in which one team has dominating advantages of two tanks plus two banshees and the other team has nothing - at this point there is no point playing and quitting out of the game is the only sensible option. Another consequence is that Warzone results in no predictability for vehicles or weapons on maps, making it impossible to plan any meaningful strategy or tactics.

➤ Warzone maps themselves have generally poor layouts; they have terrible choke points (Stormbreak is the worst) that invariably and regularly result in pointless, repetitive, boring stalemates. But you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t go for these points. Warzone intro and ending cinematic sequences are a terribly boring waste of time; novel and interesting the first three games and then the. same. boring. sequence. and voice. every. single. time. and. killing. the. same. NPC enemies. in. same. base. every. single. time.

➤ The pre-game lobby is crap. The only easily accessible information you have on players are emblems, which mean and convey nothing. Previous titles had player names, which you learned to recognise after a while and could judge good or poor players and also convey a more social aspect. Not anymore. There is also no indication of who is talking or playing music and no way to mute them. At least at first: 4 or so months after launch they finally introduced a mute option.

➤ I quit the campaign “story” after completing just two levels due to it being uninspired, boring, and generally insipid. It was the same old simplistic gameplay: run and shoot and jump through levels and kill fodder enemies and then kill bigger enemies and then wash, rinse, and repeat. Predictable boring AIs. The campaign possessed as much linear appeal as a platformer like Mario on the Super Nintendo but lacked the “richness” of storyline.

➤ At the end of the day Halo 5 is a crapshoot: incorporating random elements and features that make player performance and experience far more contingent on luck than skill compared to previously, and result in players less in control of situations. It is clunky: enforcing poor UI elements such as field of view and aiming mechanics. And it is compromised: pursuing 60fps and other goals at the expense of better more fluid UI and gameplay, local sociality, empty matchmaking lists, and player engagement.

Some people love Halo 5 however.

If you don’t have a fulltime job and play very regularly with a close team that you communicate constantly with via a headset to coordinate cohesive team strategies then Halo 5 works very well. But this is no longer a game for good, casual players looking to wind down and have some fun; for many, only frustration and boredom await. I can’t possibly see how this series can recover.

___

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2016-04-28 11:12:39 (8 comments; 1 reshares; 24 +1s; )Open 

Aggregate Stats Since Joining G+

I logged into Circle Count yesterday out of curiosity and found some surprising aggregate stats since first joining G+ in July 2011 nearly 5 years ago. Turns out I've made 958 public posts and written 459,673 words, which just blows my mind. Could I have written 3 or 4 books in that time? Other stats below include how many +1s, reshares, and comments I've received over that time.

http://www.circlecount.com/ 

Aggregate Stats Since Joining G+

I logged into Circle Count yesterday out of curiosity and found some surprising aggregate stats since first joining G+ in July 2011 nearly 5 years ago. Turns out I've made 958 public posts and written 459,673 words, which just blows my mind. Could I have written 3 or 4 books in that time? Other stats below include how many +1s, reshares, and comments I've received over that time.

http://www.circlecount.com/ ___

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2016-04-24 11:17:48 (4 comments; 26 reshares; 86 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 17/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/04/engineered-artificial-ribosomes.html

Engineered artificial ribosomes, Tantalising EmDrive, Nanomagnet Holograph displays, Hafnium oxide memristors, Rejuvenation genetherapy confirmed, Improved CRISPR, Seawater uranium extraction, Implantable ultrasound communications, Biomimicry brighter LEDs, Actin memory role.

1. Artificial Synthetic Ribosome
Ribosomes in cells take in genetic code and sequentially synthesise a complete protein from specific amino acids that correspond to that code. A new, autonomous molecular machine based DNA has been developed as an artificial synthetic ribosome able to take specific sequence instructions and make new synthetic polymer materials out of different molecules in a similar way... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 17/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/04/engineered-artificial-ribosomes.html

Engineered artificial ribosomes, Tantalising EmDrive, Nanomagnet Holograph displays, Hafnium oxide memristors, Rejuvenation genetherapy confirmed, Improved CRISPR, Seawater uranium extraction, Implantable ultrasound communications, Biomimicry brighter LEDs, Actin memory role.

1. Artificial Synthetic Ribosome
Ribosomes in cells take in genetic code and sequentially synthesise a complete protein from specific amino acids that correspond to that code. A new, autonomous molecular machine based DNA has been developed as an artificial synthetic ribosome able to take specific sequence instructions and make new synthetic polymer materials out of different molecules in a similar way http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2016/04/ribosome-mimic-dna-molecular-machine-polymer-production. The full paper is also worth a look http://sci-hub.io/10.1038/nchem.2495. The system relies on (i) chemistry DNA hairpin sequences attached to specific reactant molecules, and (ii) instruction DNA hairpin molecules with sequences that control the order in which the different monomer reactant molecules are assembled. Autonomous, programmable, atomically precise synthesis of large molecules. In related news another engineered ribosome functions in bacteria to create proteins with beta-amino acids that has never been achieved in live cells before http://news.yale.edu/2016/04/21/new-protein-making-factory-promises-better-medicines.

2. EmDrive and Unruh Radiation
To date six independent experiments have replicated the original EmDrive results by building their own device and measuring a thrust from a hollow cone when microwaves are bounced inside it, all without a suitable explanation for a seeming violation of conservation of momentum. A new theory of inertia suggests inertia is the pressure Unruh radiation exerts on an accelerating body, an effect predicted by General Relativity, and which also explains the acceleration discrepanies in falyby anomalies https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601299/the-curious-link-between-the-fly-by-anomaly-and-the-impossible-emdrive-thruster/. The theory suggests inertia is quantised, predicts flyby anomalies and their discrepancy, predicts the magnitude of thrusts measured in all experiments done so far, and makes two predictions yet to be tested: (i) a dielectric in the cavity will enhance thrust, and (ii) changing cavity dimensions will reverse thrust. It also assumes photons have inertial mass and the speed of light changes in the cavity. Will be interesting to see where this goes.

3. Nanomagnet Pixels for Holographic Displays
Wide-angle 3D holographic displays have been developed that are powered by nanomagnets http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-04/tuot-npt041916.php. The nanomagnets in these displays are referred to as magneto-optic spatial light modulators; a laser focused on the surface defines the display pixel size, pixel switching occurs in 10 nanoseconds, with pixel size and pitch in this demonstration being 1 micrometer, and enabling a 30 degree viewing angle. A nice advance in spatial light modulators towards the goal of glasses-free holographic video displays.

4. Hafnium Oxide Memristors as Synapses
New memristors made of thin-film hafnium oxide and via conventional production processes show promise as artificial synapses in brain-like chips http://phys.org/news/2016-04-physicists-electronic-synapses-neural-networks.html. Demonstrations show the memristors reproducing electrical signalling behaviour as observed in biological synapses, including spike-timing-dependent plasticity, long-term potentiation, and long-term depression. Next step will be to incorporate these hardware prototypes into larger brain-like chips.

5. Rejuvenation Gene Therapy Confirmed Against Aging
BioViva has confirmed Liz Parish’s experimental gene therapy, undertaken last year for disabling myostatin and extending teleomeres, successfully extended the telomeres of the cells that were analysed (white blood cells) from 6.71kb to 7.33kb and so effectively removing an average of 20 years worth of telomere shortening http://bioviva-science.com/2016/04/21/first-gene-therapy-successful-against-human-aging/. As always an N=1 should be taken with a grain of salt; the company has received an injection of funding and repeatability will be key in convincing skeptics of the result. The same techniques could be used to target the Per2 gene, leading to rejuvenation of the mammalian immune system and prolonged lifespans http://www.alphagalileo.org/ViewItem.aspx?ItemId=163209&CultureCode=en.

6. Single DNA Base Read/Writes Via CRISPR
A newly developed version of CRISPR can be targeted to specific sites in the genome and instead of cutting the DNA, precisely change one DNA base for another in order to correct precise single-base mutations or misspellings https://www.statnews.com/2016/04/20/clever-crispr-advance-unveiled/. This again reduces the risk of off-site target effects and provides an elegant way to make edits, provided the group can further improve the tool to be capable of all 12 basepair swaps (currently does 2). A protein nanopore array has been used for real-time single-base electronic DNA sequencing http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-04/cuso-cet042116.php. The nanopores incorporate a DNA polymerase protein that synthesises a complementary DNA strand as the strand of interest is passed through the pore; each of the four different nucleotides added incorporates a distinct tag that facilitates clearer and more accurate electrical signals that allow the sequence to be reconstructed.

7. Improvements in Extracting Uranium from Seawater
There are lots of efforts to extract useful elements from seawater with Uranium being of particular interest given the oceans collectively hold 4 billion tons of Uranium. Significant advances are being made with seawater extraction of Uranium via novel adsorbent materials that can now achieve 5.2 grams of Uranium per kilogram of adsorbent after 49 days in seawater, and with more recent tests showing 6 grams after 56 days https://www.ornl.gov/news/advances-extracting-uranium-seawater-announced-special-issue. There would be many benefits to achieving economical Uranium (and other metals) extraction from seawater.

8. Ultrasonic Data Transmission Through Flesh
Ultrasonic signals can now be used to transmit data through meat at 30 mbps, enough for HD video http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/biomedical/devices/ultrasonic-signals-transmit-data-through-meat-at-hd-video-quality. Current implanted medical devices are usually limited to much lower data rates, but having wireless data transmission via ultrasound able to deliver HD video offers a number of benefits including live-streaming video from swallowed camera-pills, easily managing large firmware updates to implanted devices, and others. Next step is animal studies and confirmation of the effect of bone structures on data rates.

9. Biomimicry for Brighter LEDs
The amount of light emitted by LEDs was boosted by 60% by carefully shaping the outer surface of the LED to mimic the structure of a firefly’s lantern http://gizmodo.com/scientists-made-leds-60-percent-brighter-by-copying-fir-1771979185. This essentially amounts to forming a nanostructured lens on top of the LED and these structures reduce the difference in refractive index between the material body and air, allowing more light to be emitted. This opens up the possibility for more power-efficient LEDs, but I’m also wondering if they can flip it and improve the efficiency of photodetectors and photovoltaics?

10. The Role of Actin in Memory
New models suggest that actin, the protein that helps to control cell shape, is responsible for the formation of long-term memories http://news.rice.edu/2016/04/18/thanks-actin-for-the-memories/. This concerns studies of the energy landscape of proteins and how actin filaments pull upon and stabilise certain proteins to form longer, more stable, and insoluble prion-like fibers. This offers another piece of evidence for the biological role of prion-like proteins, and also suggests a healthy role for some types of protein aggregates in cells, which are often considered a sign of disease and malfunction. This provides a mechanism for synaptic structures to last many years, if not decades, although the transition from short-term memory to this form of long-term memory is not yet known.

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2016-04-17 08:26:20 (15 comments; 19 reshares; 79 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 16/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/04/neocortical-sequence-memory-neural.html

Neocortical sequence memory, Neural bypass for movement, 3D printed ovaries, Human tissue textiles, Noisy CPUs, Smartphone satellite messaging, CRISPR edited mushrooms, Sticky wearable display, Full duplex radio, SpaceX ship landing.

1. Neocortical Sequence Memory
Numenta have presented a tantalising new theory of how networks of neurons in the neocortex learn sequences that explains (i) why neocortical neurons have thousands of synapses that are segregated onto different parts of the cell, and (ii) how neocortical column arrangement can form a powerful sequence memory http://numenta.com/press/numenta-researchers-discover-how-the-brain-learns-sequences.html. The new models are vastly different to current artificial... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 16/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/04/neocortical-sequence-memory-neural.html

Neocortical sequence memory, Neural bypass for movement, 3D printed ovaries, Human tissue textiles, Noisy CPUs, Smartphone satellite messaging, CRISPR edited mushrooms, Sticky wearable display, Full duplex radio, SpaceX ship landing.

1. Neocortical Sequence Memory
Numenta have presented a tantalising new theory of how networks of neurons in the neocortex learn sequences that explains (i) why neocortical neurons have thousands of synapses that are segregated onto different parts of the cell, and (ii) how neocortical column arrangement can form a powerful sequence memory http://numenta.com/press/numenta-researchers-discover-how-the-brain-learns-sequences.html. The new models are vastly different to current artificial neuron models and deep learning models, and exhibit powerful properties including high fault tolerance, continuous unsupervised learning, and the ability to learn complex sequences. Such models, if validated, will greatly accelerate the development of machine intelligence. In related news certain neural circuit mapping tools are now 20 times more powerful http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-04-brain-tool-powerful-previous-version.html.

2. Neural Bypass Links Brain to Hand
A new neural bypass system uses a brain implant to record signals from the motor cortex, then decodes and sends these to a sleeve of electrodes that stimulate the appropriate forearm muscles, and can do this with an accuracy that allows the person with spinal injury to pick up a bottle or hit the right chord on guitar hero http://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/bionics/now-theres-a-way-around-paralysis-neural-bypass-links-brain-to-hand. With just 96 electrodes sampling 30,000 times per second, machine learning algorithms separate signal from noise in order to correctly encode the correct signals to be sent to the arm electrodes and muscles. With higher-density electrodes and better interfaces with distant muscle neurons we might be well on the way to providing natural, remote brain-body and brain-machine movement.

3. 3D Printed Ovaries Work in Mice
When new ovaries 3D printed with a new technique were implanted into mice they were able to successfully give birth to live healthy pups http://singularityhub.com/2016/04/10/this-3d-printed-prosthetic-ovary-restores-female-fertility-in-mice/. Comprised of a cross-linked biomaterial scaffold and seeded with ovarian follicles the implants were completely innervated by blood vessels, restored the animal’s hormone cycle, and produced eggs that could be fertilised. Human trials and therapies will commence once induced pluripotent stem cell technology can reliably produce the necessary oocytes and support cells needed to seed the scaffold.

4. Textile Techniques for Human Tissue Fabrication
Leading on from 3D printed ovaries, studies of different textile manufacturing techniques have determined which processes are ideal for engineering tissues needed for organ repair and implant http://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2016/0407-methods-used-to-create-textiles-also-could-help-manufacture-human-tissues-2/. The processes tested included the standard electrospinning technique, as well as meltblowing, spunbonding, and carding, all of which exceeded the cost-performance of electrospinning. The main driver for exploring these techniques is the requirement for industrial scale up of these engineered tissues, for example the need to produce 100s of meters of tissue material with consistent and reliable properties.

5. Engineering Noisy CPUs
DARPA-funded Singular Computing is producing CPU chips that deliberately perform mathematical operations incorrectly to a small extent, outputting 2.01 when performing 1 + 1 for example https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601263/why-a-chip-thats-bad-at-math-can-help-computers-tackle-harder-problems/. This fuzzy output turns out to be an asset when processing noisy, messy data and resulting in lower-power computation while software is still able to produce a useful result. Applications include radar imaging, 3D information from stereo photos, deep learning, and others. Demonstrations of object tracking in video performed 100 times faster on these error prone chips and consumed only 2% of the power of a conventional processor.

6. Smartphone Satellite Messaging
Higher Ground has developed a smartphone case called StaPaq that communicates to the phone via bluetooth while packing a satellite communications antenna that allows basic text messaging and email via satellite from remote locations lacking standard network connectivity http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/telecom/wireless/could-satellite-messaging-startup-higher-ground-bring-down-the-911-system. There are concerns with spectrum interference and antenna power density at close range, but there is a genuine use-case and benefits for people in remote areas, and also for remote sensors and intermittent reporting monitors as part of the Internet of Things. In related news Facebook unveiled ARIES, a wireless antenna array that can deliver data communications to devices dozens of miles away http://www.wired.com/2016/04/facebooks-massive-new-antennas-can-beam-internet-miles/.

7. CRISPR Edited Mushroom Available for Sale
Mushrooms whose genomes have been edited with CRISPR can be cultivated and sold without further regulatory interference http://www.nature.com/news/gene-edited-crispr-mushroom-escapes-us-regulation-1.19754. This is the first CRISPR-edited organism to receive such a green light; the mushroom was edited to disable 6 genes and this resulted in an increased resistance to browning. The mushroom made it through regulatory oversight because the only edits involved disabled genes and didn’t include the introduction of foreign or novel genes from other organisms.

8. Wearable Display Adheres to Skin
A skin-like microns-thick organic LED display can stick comfortably to the skin and display information from similarly wearable sensors http://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/this-wearable-digital-display-just-sticks-on-your-skin. With further development one might imagine higher resolution displays capable of images and more dense information such as a replacement for a smartwatch as a form of temporary stick-on tattoo, a full-body version of which would be a pretty impressive / magical sight.

9. Low Power Full Duplex Radio
Building on work and prototypes first demonstrated last year a low-power full-duplex radio chip has been demonstrated that can transmit and receive signals on the same frequency at the same time using a single antenna http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/telecom/wireless/new-full-duplex-radio-chip-transmits-and-receives-wireless-signals-at-once. The promise is that mature rollout of such a chip would double the data capacity of existing technology. This breakthrough required a novel hardware solution involving the exact arrangement of transistors on the chip as well as an echo-cancelling receiver. The current chip should work for WiFi but will need to have its power capacity boosted to facilitate longer distance mobile communications.

10. SpaceX Lands Rocket on Drone Ship
At the start of the week we got to bear witness to SpaceX achieve yet another remarkable milestone in drastically reducing the cost to reach orbit by successfully launching a Falcon 9 rocket 200km into space, deploying an inflatable habitat in space, then re-entering the atmosphere and landing on a drone ship out at sea http://arstechnica.com/science/2016/04/like-a-boss-falcon-soars-into-space-and-lands-in-the-ocean/. Landing out at sea is more fuel efficient. If it passes firing tests the same rocket will be relaunched by June with the company offering a 30% price saving to customers.

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2016-04-16 02:50:41 (45 comments; 4 reshares; 25 +1s; )Open 

Recent Politics

Perhaps the best, regular, and most engaging political coverage I’ve ever found bar none is Dave Rubin’s +The Rubin Report the YouTube channel of which has quickly become one of my favourites and a regular go-to source. I’d like to share why that is and also provide some insight into my current political views and how they came to be that way - the first such post I’ve done on politics in over 5 years. Decent chance I'll regret it. I agonised over which of Dave’s videos to share here but chose this one because (i) the call to action at the end inspired me to be more vocal, (ii) the critiques of the far left RE terrorism are applicable to critiques of the far left RE other things, and (iii) it’s just a great public statement in general.

Some of the things I absolutely love about the show include the incredible diversity of people he has on tointerview, ... more »

Recent Politics

Perhaps the best, regular, and most engaging political coverage I’ve ever found bar none is Dave Rubin’s +The Rubin Report the YouTube channel of which has quickly become one of my favourites and a regular go-to source. I’d like to share why that is and also provide some insight into my current political views and how they came to be that way - the first such post I’ve done on politics in over 5 years. Decent chance I'll regret it. I agonised over which of Dave’s videos to share here but chose this one because (i) the call to action at the end inspired me to be more vocal, (ii) the critiques of the far left RE terrorism are applicable to critiques of the far left RE other things, and (iii) it’s just a great public statement in general.

Some of the things I absolutely love about the show include the incredible diversity of people he has on to interview, the mostly balanced nature of the discussions, the fact that the guests are allowed to talk and say their piece, the exposure to different opinions and viewpoints that I wouldn’t otherwise encounter, the useful rhetoric and argumentative tools that you pick up, the fact that Dave helps a person open up and I find myself both agreeing with some of what they say and disagreeing with other bits, and that Dave is just a really likeable, honest guy who’d be cool to hang out and have a drink with. Although he is just as likely to prefer a joint instead.

It probably helps that my political alignment is similar to Dave’s in the sense of a classical liberal with libertarian leanings. Freedom of speech and expression is sacrosanct, fundamental, and the foundation upon which all we hold dear is built.

I first came across the channel when he interviewed Sam Harris. This was a while after the Ben Affleck affair on the Bill Maher show in which Affleck absolutely embarrassed himself with obnoxious, misleading, and utterly ludicrous attacks on Harris. I’m a fan and supporter of Harris and have long considered him one of the most rational, courageous, and carefully precise thinkers currently serving the public sphere. The interview with Dave is excellent and probably Harris’ best response to the Affleck affair and other matters.

Interestingly the Affleck abuse of Harris (like similar treatment by The Young Turks that I now can’t tolerate), a well-intentioned liberal attacking a well-grounded intellectual liberal, marked the first time I became acutely aware of a stark and ugly division in the left, something that had apparently been building for years.

A lot of the focus of the show over the past 6 months has been to hammer home and expose issues to do with the radicalised far left, which is replete with special interest groups who espouse inherently authoritarian and fascist ideologies but paradoxically believe they are progressive. Nothing could be further from the truth of course and Rubin recasts these efforts with a more suitable term first used by Maajid Nawaz, that of the Regressive Left, and making a very good case for political horseshoe theory with the extreme left and extreme right having far more in common with each other (like authoritarianism) than anyone else along the spectrum including classical liberals, libertarians, or other moderates.

Some examples of regressive left, fascist ideologies include things like third wave feminism, social justice warriors, Islamophobia, rape culture, modern identity politics, safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggressions, and political correctness in general, which is perhaps the foundation for them all.

On political correctness the late George Carlin said it best: Political correctness is fascism pretending to be manners, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkhUivqzWv0

What these movements, these ideologies all have in common is the authoritarian desire to control, censor, and block free speech, while sharing rhetoric that involves rampant use of logical fallacies including anecdotal evidence, black and white examples, cherry-picked data, and most commonly an appeal to emotion used to drive a baseless culture of outrage and offense. At its worst this results in a culture of shaming and witch-hunting, and a deplorable infantilisation of both our youth and our discourse in general. Such ideologies serve only to make society less equal, and less equitable while boosting societal divisiveness, bizarrely threatening to reverse the hard-won progress we’ve collectively made previously in making everyone more equal and more equitable.

In general everyone along the spectrum has good hearts and means well; everyone wants a better world. Yet as the regressive left seeks to censor debate and reach for that elusive pseudo moral superiority with which to bash everyone else with, it instead grasps fascism in all its intolerant glory. What annoys me most at times with this growing facet of our political spectrum are things such as a denial of biology, a confirmation bias that recasts everything to fit the narrative, and the unshakable faith-based conviction that all who disagree are bigots that must be silenced. If nothing else it has opened my mind to the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of moral and cultural relativism. Few things sadden me as much as seeing free speech blocked, censored, and silenced on University campuses, those supposed bastions of the enlightenment.

Some memorable interviews include:
Note all interviews are also available in shorter sections addressing specific topics.

Sam Harris
On Affleck fallout, Islam, and being continually misrepresented
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQqxlzHJrU0

Christina Hoff Sommers
One of the most prominent feminist academics on the planet
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RNaspc5Ep4

Mike Cernovich
Convinced me that Trump is a good bet for President over Hillary purely on establishment shake-up grounds. Although Sanders is still my first choice and I hope he succeeds in his bid.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K03gRy6qjKY

Milo Yianopolous
Provocateur; but I tend to agree with his message and methods
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FvADt-mJ_o and
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiA0P9iELAA

Ben Shapiro
Confrontingly conservative, hammers the irrelevancy of feelings in public / social policy decisions
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Qrlnn35gBo

John McCain
Presented surprisingly well and articulately
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSB8CYXcchw

Gad Saad
Jovial evolutionary psychologist and liberal political commentator
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jq1utGg0PUY

Douglas Murray
Political commentator on free speech and Islam
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oX914A6dbbs

All of this was playing in the back of my mind recently while reading Peter Turchin’s excellent book Ultrasociety concerning the rise of cultures, states, and societal institutions that are ever-more cooperative, ever-more equitable, ever-more trusting, productive, and wealthy. And all driven by competition between different cultural groups that has, historically, been unfortunately characterised by war. The key passages that come to mind here are those concerning the common features of empires (that their dominant cultures) that fall: (i) enrichment of elites, (ii) rampant inequality in wealth, and (iii) rising demands of special interest groups - all of which contributes to the evaporation of trust, a decline in cooperation and the weakening of the state and culture that helped make the existence of productive wealth and special interests even possible in the first place.

I fear that there are real parallels here to our current situation, that the rise of special interest groups, small distinct subcultures that don’t integrate with and are divisively toxic to the broader culture that supports them, are like tumours slowly festering and sending out toxic signalling molecules to the surrounding support tissue. Hyperbole? Sure. But in this view the rising influence of far left fascist interest groups are as potentially damaging to our society’s future well being as are the depredations of extreme elite enrichment and inequality. Dealing with this intolerance is becoming doubly important given the growing technological pressures (such as pervasive surveillance) for our society to develop values and institutions that boost wisdom and enshrine forgiveness and tolerance.

To finish off this part Rubin Report recommendation, part rant that some are sure to judge me by, I’ll share a good recent piece by Status 451, All Aboard The Shame Train, that overviews some of the recent growing intolerance and fascism that I’ve alluded to: https://status451.com/2016/04/05/all-aboard-the-shame-train/

For now, I'm going back to the science and tech I love so dearly.

Edit: Clarification over Sanders / Trump confusion___

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2016-04-14 05:15:08 (3 comments; 3 reshares; 17 +1s; )Open 

Just attended the Rodney Brooks Public Lecture: The Future of Robotics and AI

Rodney Brooks, of Roomba, Rethink Robotics, Baxter, Sawyer fame gave a public lecture at Flinders University this afternoon and I was lucky enough to attend. Rodney received his Bachelors degree from Flinders before travelling to the USA to complete a PhD and launch his stellar career, and still has family in Adelaide.

Sawyer's design was influenced by Apple apparently: Apple dictates that employees at Chinese factories where iPhones are made must have a 2-foot by 2-foot by 5-foot workspace, and so Sawyer was designed to fit that workspace.

He enjoyed the latest The Martian movie because the little robot he worked on Sojourner made an appearance o_0

Rodney believe's that the future is one of human-machine partnership; 600,000 manufacturing jobs in USA remain... more »

Just attended the Rodney Brooks Public Lecture: The Future of Robotics and AI

Rodney Brooks, of Roomba, Rethink Robotics, Baxter, Sawyer fame gave a public lecture at Flinders University this afternoon and I was lucky enough to attend. Rodney received his Bachelors degree from Flinders before travelling to the USA to complete a PhD and launch his stellar career, and still has family in Adelaide.

Sawyer's design was influenced by Apple apparently: Apple dictates that employees at Chinese factories where iPhones are made must have a 2-foot by 2-foot by 5-foot workspace, and so Sawyer was designed to fit that workspace.

He enjoyed the latest The Martian movie because the little robot he worked on Sojourner made an appearance o_0

Rodney believe's that the future is one of human-machine partnership; 600,000 manufacturing jobs in USA remain unfilled and are perfect for robots so they won't take away jobs (personally I wasn't convinced). His projections for the future are a bit conservative with regard to robot roll-out and capability; key problems that need solving are Mobility (difficult terrain), Messiness (object mapping and recognition), and Manipulation (better hands with Mechanics, Sensors, Algorithms, and Materials). Wasn't that enamoured with deep learning advances and thinks they are a long long way from human capabilities of generalisation.

My contribution: At the end of the talk someone asked about his thoughts on nanobots, Rodney started by saying "Ever since that guy . . . you know . . . engines of creation . . . " and I shouted out "Drexler" . . . "Yeah that's the guy, Eric Drexler . . ." Rodney is actually more optimistic for the next 20 years RE nanobots given recent demonstrations than he had been for the previous 20 years; science and tech advances appear to have won him over.
___

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2016-04-12 13:52:17 (87 comments; 15 reshares; 75 +1s; )Open 

Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth by Peter Turchin

This book changed my conception of war, culture, society, cooperation, competition, religion, and memes - to a lesser or greater extent.

The main thrust of Ultrasociety concerns support of new theories of evolutionary group selection to explain the rise and nature of the complex societies we currently find ourselves in, while challenging the standard criticisms of conventional evolutionary group selection. While genetics is of course mentioned, these advanced theories of group selection are based on Multilevel Cultural Selection, the selection of cultural traits, of memes or memeplexes, that lead to the evolution of ever-larger groups better able to compete, better able to cooperate, better able to produce more resources and more equitable societies. And this selection for the... more »

Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth by Peter Turchin

This book changed my conception of war, culture, society, cooperation, competition, religion, and memes - to a lesser or greater extent.

The main thrust of Ultrasociety concerns support of new theories of evolutionary group selection to explain the rise and nature of the complex societies we currently find ourselves in, while challenging the standard criticisms of conventional evolutionary group selection. While genetics is of course mentioned, these advanced theories of group selection are based on Multilevel Cultural Selection, the selection of cultural traits, of memes or memeplexes, that lead to the evolution of ever-larger groups better able to compete, better able to cooperate, better able to produce more resources and more equitable societies. And this selection for the large, complex, and equitable societies we now have was driven by war. The arguments, supporting historical data, and predictions are incredibly compelling and provide profound insights and a new and very useful way of looking at the world we live in and the direction we are headed.

I was incredibly fortunate to stumble across this book and have the opportunity to distill and consider its contents.

There are interesting and at first counterintuitive lessons here, such as the most important technology invented by our species after language was ranged, or thrown, weapons. This is because ranged weapons levelled physical ability and prowess, allowed dominant alpha males to be dispatched much more safely, and by doing so empowered the development of group egalitarianism and more cooperative groups of early humans.

The key and most important lesson however is that within-group competition destroys cooperation within the group, making it less cohesive and more likely to fall to another group, and between-group competition enhances cooperation within the group, boosting cohesion and making the group more likely to resist or destroy another group. Groups that develop rules, values, and institutions that boost cooperation within the group, that develop cooperative cultures, will overwhelmingly tend to outcompete those that do not or those that do so poorly. Cooperation is the key to success; a large group will always prevail over a small group due to sheer numbers and basic logistical superiority enabling terrifying staying-power.

Despite being against war, and making a case for war itself trending to extinction, Ultrasociety tends to suggest that an appropriate rephrasing of Bruce Springsteen’s classic lyrics would be: “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing everything we cherish and hold dear.”

Cultural selection as presented even makes a case for the value of organised religion. War and conflict between groups can drive the creation of large, complex states of millions of people but within-group cooperation at this scale is inherently fragile. Monotheistic religions arose because they served as a wonderful binder and glue to enforce and maintain cooperation during times of peace, helping to create institutions that facilitated trust between people. In small groups everyone knows and watches everyone else; in big groups with religion everyone is known by and watched by a God.

Looking forward, with religion having served its purpose and in the obvious absence of gods, I wonder what institutions we will create to fill this gap? Will we welcome pervasive transparent surveillance or will we be able to adequately implement blockchain technology to replace our ailing institutions and guarantee an even stronger level of trust between people? The lessons from Ultrasociety are also important for those considering or running a business, or marshalling any collective group towards a worthwhile goal.

Perhaps most provocatively, Ultrasociety makes a compelling, if unstated case against the philosophies of moral and cultural relativism. Not all cultures are equal; some cultures are better than others, and this can be measured empirically. Those cultures falling behind would be wise to adopt and improve upon the institutions of those more successful cultures if they are to avoid extinction.

Selected excerpts:

The theory of cultural multilevel selection says that this evolution is only possible when societies compete against each other, so that those lacking the right institutions fail. The costly institutions of complex societies manage to spread and propagate because the societies that possess them destroy those that don’t.

It was competition and conflict between human groups that drove the transformation of small bands of hunter-gatherers into huge nation-states. Not to put too fine a point on it, it was war that first created despotic, archaic states and then destroyed them, replacing them with better, more equal societies. War both destroys and creates. War is a force of destructive creation, a terrible means to a remarkable end.

Nevertheless, this brutal, murderous force can also be creative. By eliminating poorly coordinated, uncooperative, and dysfunctional states it creates more cooperative, more peaceful, and more affluent ones.

Here’s how war serves to weed out societies that “go bad.” When discipline, imposed by the need to survive conflict, gets relaxed, societies lose their ability to cooperate. A reactionary catchphrase of the 1970s used to go, “what this generation needs is a war,” a deplorable sentiment but one that in terms of cultural evolution might sometimes have a germ of cold logic. At any rate, there is a pattern that we see recurring throughout history, when a successful empire expands its borders so far that it becomes the biggest kid on the block. When survival is no longer at stake, selfish elites and other special interest groups capture the political agenda. The spirit that “we are all in the same boat” disappears and is replaced by a “winner take all” mentality. As the elites enrich themselves, the rest of the population is increasingly impoverished. Rampant inequality of wealth further corrodes cooperation. Beyond a certain point a formerly great empire becomes so dysfunctional that smaller, more cohesive neighbors begin tearing it apart. Eventually the capacity for cooperation declines to such a low level that barbarians can strike at the very heart of the empire without encountering significant resistance. But barbarians at the gate are not the real cause of imperial collapse. They are a consequence of the failure to sustain social cooperation. As the British historian Arnold Toynbee said, great civilizations are not murdered — they die by suicide.

The 30 years in America since about 1985 were a giant social experiment. What would happen if ideologies extolling extreme individualism and elevating self-interest as the sole basis on which to organize society were to gain the upper hand? The results are in: a decline of social cooperation at all levels of American society, resulting in a decreased ability to get the job done.

Complex human societies, including our own, are fragile. They are held together by an invisible web of mutual trust and social cooperation. This web can fray easily, resulting in growing social dysfunction. When cooperation is lost, a typical result is a wave of political instability and internal conflict and, in extreme cases, outright social collapse.

Social theorists have a name for smart people motivated solely by greed and fear — “rational agents.” It turns out that a group consisting entirely of rational agents is incapable of cooperation. In particular, such people will never manage to put together a fighting troop.

In fact, no matter what others do, a rational agent’s best course of action is always to defect. In a tribe of rational agents, all will feel this way, and therefore none will go out to meet the enemy. They’ll all pretend to be sick — until they are dragged out of bed and killed by their enemies.

Although societies differ in their tolerance of inequality (especially if it’s justified by high performance), there is always a point beyond which unequal division of rewards ceases to seem legitimate. When people feel that they are not getting their fair share, they begin to withdraw their cooperation. In a baseball team in which one player — the superstar — earns 10 times as much as his mates, the other players begin to slack off. As a result, baseball teams with highly unequal payrolls win fewer games than teams in which rewards are distributed more equitably. This is despite the fact that the more unequal teams have extremely strong players.

Teamwork pays. A single hunter can spend a lot of effort chasing down a rabbit, and get only a pound or two of meat to show for it at the end of the day. When a team of hunters brings down a buffalo, they will divide among themselves close to a thousand pounds of meat—perhaps a hundred pounds each. Economists call this kind of arithmetic “increasing returns to scale” — when a group working together can significantly increase each individual’s payoff, compared with what they would get working on their own.

In particular, high-trust societies tend to be more successful — better governed, more economically productive, simply nicer places to live and to visit.

Natural selection can simultaneously act on individuals within groups, and on whole groups. Within each tribe, cowards do better than brave men, on average increasing every generation. But at the same time, cowardly tribes are eliminated by courageous ones. Which of these processes will be stronger depends on many details: just how great is the cost of bravery?

Generally speaking, the capacity for culture should evolve (assuming that such pre-adaptations as sophisticated cognitive abilities are in place) when the environment changes too fast for genetic adaptation to work, but slowly enough for information accumulated by previous generations to be useful. If environmental change is faster than that, you are better off learning everything yourself, even though it’s risky and inefficient. Some aspects of the modern environment are changing very rapidly indeed.

As a corollary, while competition between teams creates cooperation, competition among players within a team destroys it. In other words, to succeed, cooperative groups must suppress internal competition. Equality of group members is, therefore, a very important factor in promoting group cohesion and cooperation, which translates into the capacity of the group to win against other groups.

Remember, the raw stuff of evolution is variation. When different teams, firms, ethnic groups, or whole societies are allowed (even encouraged) to experiment with different ways of doing things, it becomes possible to see what works best. Then best practices can be selected, either by the process of blind evolution, or by conscious choice. However, after that it would be a mistake to force everybody to do things the same way, because that would stop evolution in its tracks. You never know if there’s an even better solution just around the corner — or a danger that your training never prepared you for.

A coalition of punishers armed with stones (remember that stoning is one of the most ancient forms of capital punishment) or, better, with spears and bows and arrows, can easily dispatch an upstart with little risk to themselves. The killing power of projectile weapons is what made men equal, and drove the evolution of egalitarianism, thanks to our collective ability to control and subdue aggressive, physically powerful males.

This effect is known as Lanchester’s Square Law, because during each round of engagement, the proportion of casualties inflicted by an army on its adversary is the square of its numerical advantage. The moral of this mathematical digression is that, on flat plains, with warriors using projectile weapons, any numerical superiority that an army can achieve over its enemy is magnified out of all proportion. In other words, Lanchester’s Square Law yields an enormous return to social scale.

This means that under conditions of intense warfare and a real existential threat to groups that are defeated, we should expect a strong selection not only for larger size, but also for effective military hierarchies. However, the more effective a military hierarchy is, the more power it has. There is a principle in Sociology known as the Iron Law of Oligarchy. It says that all forms of organization, regardless of how democratic or autocratic they may be at the start, will eventually and inevitably develop into oligarchies. Power corrupts.

Why was cultural group selection the key to the transition from forager to farmer? Because you cannot switch to farming when everybody else in your community is foraging. The whole group needs to shift together. It requires a new set of cultural norms and institutions shared by all. The most important such institution would have been property rights over the food that you have grown.

The logic of cultural group selection also explains why agriculture was adopted in spite of its huge health costs. Groups of poorly nourished — perhaps even chronically sick — farmers were able to exterminate healthy and tall foragers simply by force of numbers. So individual fitness (both in the evolutionary sense and in the everyday sense of physical condition) declined, but evolutionary group fitness increased, and that is what drove the whole process.

Just as cows breed more cows, wealth breeds more wealth. The Matthew Principle means that economic inequality always increases. Short of a destructive war or a revolution that expropriates from the rich, economic inequality can only be kept in check by some kind of periodic redistribution, such as progressive taxes on wealth and inheritance.

Around 2,500 years ago, we see qualitatively new forms of social organization — the larger and more durable Axial mega-empires that employed new forms of legitimation of political power. The new sources of this legitimacy were the Axial religions, or more broadly ideologies, such as Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Confucianism (and later Christianity and Islam). During this time, gods evolved from capricious projections of human desire (who as often as not squabbled among themselves) into transcendental moralizers concerned above all with prosocial behavior by all, including the rulers. The Axial religions introduced several innovations that enabled post-Axial states to increase the scale of social cooperation. In other words, universal religions expand the circle of cooperation beyond the ethnolinguistic group; they work as a glue that holds together diverse groups in multiethnic empires.

So large groups in which belief in a moralistic, all-knowing punisher became rooted would be more cooperative than the atheistic ones. In small-scale societies, people behaved prosocially because they were being watched by acquaintances and neighbors. In large-scale anonymous societies they had to be good because gods watched them.

In Norenzayan’s words, “watched people are nice people.” It doesn’t matter whether the watchers are your friends and neighbors or supernatural beings (or even “Big Brother,” as in our modern societies). As long as people are watched, they behave nicely. And groups of people who behave nicely to each other win over groups that don’t. Sincere belief in supernatural moralistic punishers is particularly important because of the way it can restrain the powerful. A monarch may not care very much what peasants think of him, but he would think twice before crossing an all-knowing omnipotent god.

Available here: http://www.amazon.com/Ultrasociety-Years-Humans-Greatest-Cooperators-ebook/dp/B0185P69LU

The Secret of Our Success by Joseph Henrich also looks good and along similar lines to Ultrasociety.
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2016-04-10 08:50:02 (11 comments; 21 reshares; 79 +1s; )Open 

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 15/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/04/gut-bacteria-therapeutics-large.html

Gut bacteria therapeutics, Large cortical maps, Metal foam applications, Plastic proteins, Stem cell regeneration, Nanocrystal ink transistors, Elegant brain navigation, Harmonic gear improvements, Smartphone blood tests, Carbon nanotube advances.

1. Reprogrammed Gut Bacteria Therapeutics
Synologic is seeking to launch a range of living therapeutics comprising engineered gut microbes http://news.mit.edu/2016/startup-synlogic-reprogramming-gut-bacteria-living-therapeutics-0405. The bacteria are intended to correct metabolic disorders that cause major diseases by providing augmented metabolic capabilities in the gut or otherwise complement functionality that may have been lost in other organs. These are metabolic... more »

SciTech #ScienceSunday Digest - 15/2016.
Permalink here: http://www.scitechdigest.net/2016/04/gut-bacteria-therapeutics-large.html

Gut bacteria therapeutics, Large cortical maps, Metal foam applications, Plastic proteins, Stem cell regeneration, Nanocrystal ink transistors, Elegant brain navigation, Harmonic gear improvements, Smartphone blood tests, Carbon nanotube advances.

1. Reprogrammed Gut Bacteria Therapeutics
Synologic is seeking to launch a range of living therapeutics comprising engineered gut microbes http://news.mit.edu/2016/startup-synlogic-reprogramming-gut-bacteria-living-therapeutics-0405. The bacteria are intended to correct metabolic disorders that cause major diseases by providing augmented metabolic capabilities in the gut or otherwise complement functionality that may have been lost in other organs. These are metabolic thermostats, regulating levels of ammonia or amino acids in the first examples, and seeking to treat things like inflammatory bowel disease in future, and possibly even things like lactose and gluten intolerance. Such a platform might be used not only for disease treatment but enhancement too. This is especially interesting given recent studies demonstrating gut bacteria regulating brain structure and function https://www.theguardian.com/science/neurophilosophy/2016/apr/05/gut-bacteria-brain-myelin and suggesting gut bacteria modification might actually impact intelligence.

2. Largest Network of Cortical Neurons Mapped
The largest network map of connections between neurons in the cortex has been published, another important milestone in the field of connectomics https://www.alleninstitute.org/what-we-do/brain-science/news-press/press-releases/research-largest-network-cortical-neurons-date-published-nature. This work is increasingly building tools to reverse engineer the brain and discover relationships between circuit wiring and neuronal and network computations, identifying modular architectures and functionally specific connectivity between neurons. This work comprised a 100 terabyte 3D data set, specifically analysing neurons in the visual cortex that responded to particular stimuli such as horizontal bars on a screen.

3. Composite Metal Foam Applications
The development of composite metal foams has developed in interesting directions, with the latest demonstration showing a 1-inch thick composite metal foam easily withstanding the impact from a high-power armour-piercing bullet, indeed the bullet turns into dust on impact - see the video https://news.ncsu.edu/2016/04/metal-foam-tough-2016/. In addition these metal foams are significantly lighter than normal metal plate, effectively shield x-rays, gamma rays, and neutron radiation, and handle fire and heat twice as well as bulk metals.

4. Versatile Plastic Proteins
Cyanuric chloride is a molecule being used as the base for a platform materials technology able to create a huge range of synthetic plastic proteins http://www.pnnl.gov/news/release.aspx?id=4266. This base molecule is used to produce a wide range of monomers with different side chains (functional groups) like amino acids, the monomers can be linked together in specific sequences as desired, and the chemistry facilitates predictable non-covalent bonds able to fold the polymer into desired shapes (like a protein). The benefits are the ability to create a much larger library of stable monomers, and potentially longer, larger polymer chains and more diverse folded shapes with novel functions - even replacing or mimicking protein drugs if needed. The benefits are these materials are much more stable, longer-lived, and resistant to protein-type degradation than normal proteins.

5. Next Generation Stem Cell Tissue Regeneration
A new stem cell technique reprograms bone and fat cells into induced multipotent stem cells (iMS) that have the ability to regenerate multiple tissue types in mice http://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/health/medical-scientists-develop-%E2%80%98game-changing%E2%80%99-stem-cell-repair-system. Once human iMS cells have been demonstrated as safe and effective in mice then human trials with the new cells may begin in 2017. The transformation procedure seems quite straightforward, and involves treating the cells with the compound 5-Azacytidine and platelet-derived growth factor. This looks fascinating for regenerating and repairing damaged or diseased tissues, but I wonder if it will also rejuvenate simply aged tissues? In related news the genes driving natural regeneration in animals have been mapped and counterparts have been found in humans https://today.duke.edu/2016/04/genetrees.

6. Nanocrystal Ink Transistors
Different spherical nanoparticles with the necessary electrical properties were dispersed in liquids to make inks, and a library of four of these inks can be used to lay down precise patterns to form transistors and other electrical components on flexible surfaces https://news.upenn.edu/news/penn-engineers-develop-first-transistors-made-entirely-nanocrystal-inks. This is a low-power, low-temperature fabrication technique and a good example of additive manufacturing process for creating logic gates, integrated circuits, and other electronics. It is also nicely modular as individual inks and nanocrystals can be independently developed and optimised to achieve better results. In related news precisely layered quantum dots enhance light-to-current energy conversion https://www.bnl.gov/newsroom/news.php?a=11829.

7. Brain Location Tracking with Natural Logarithms
It has been known that brains use grid cells to keep track of their physical location, but the mechanism by which grid cells encode and decode this information has now been deciphered for the first time http://www.upenn.edu/spotlights/penn-researchers-theory-brains-location-tracking-cells-use-transcendental-number-system. Grid cells use a transcendental number system based on the mathematical constant ‘e’ with different sized grids acting as the equivalent of tens, hundreds, and thousands in a decimal number, and with different sized grids found in ratios of ‘e’. To find ‘e’ lurking in the brain’s codes like this is pretty powerful and I wonder where else in the brain it might be found; it turns out that this is the most efficient way to encode the most amount of information with the least amount of cells and so it shouldn’t be too surprising the evolution figured this out a long time ago. This system works for animals navigating a predominantly 2D environment, but for those navigating 3D you only need a slightly different factor of ‘e’ to achieve the same.

8. Improvements for Harmonic Gears
Harmonic gears have the same size, weight, and form factor regardless of gear ratio, allowing flexible design revisions and reduction ratios of 30:1 to 160:1 being common; as a bonus developments in materials technology should allow harmonic gears to maintain their exceptional torque capacity while realising a 30% reduction in weight http://nextbigfuture.com/2016/04/stronger-metals-will-make-lighter-and.html. Prime benefits and applications here appear to be in robotics and prosthetics, for which you might want this analogue self-powered smart skin http://www.nanowerk.com/spotlight/spotid=43084.php.

9. Portable, Personal, Smartphone, Blood Testing
Cor is launching a product to bring blood chemistry testing via spectroscopy to the home http://www.gizmag.com/cor-blood-chemistry-health-tracker/42608/. The system uses (i) single-use cartridges that have a fine needle to take surface level blood samples, (ii) a reader unit then takes the cartridge and analyses the sample via vibrational spectroscopy, (iii) data is sent to the cloud for processing, (iv) results are returned to the person via a smartphone app. The first tests will include cholesterol, glucose, fibrinogen, and triglycerides. It is great to see this space increasingly heating up and I’m sorely tempted to back Cor’s Indiegogo campaign.

10. Latest Interesting Carbon Nanotube Tech
First, wafer-scale uniformly-aligned high-density carbon nanotube films are now being produced, which can be patterned by standard photolithography methods, and which have produced transistors, LEDs, photodetectors, and polarizers http://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/materials/wafer-scale-nanotube-film-is-finally-here. Second, carbon nanotubes have been used as nanoreactors to produce long (micrometer), stable one-dimensional carbon chains known as carbyne within the nanotubes; carbyne’s mechanical properties exceed all known materials http://phys.org/news/2016-04-proof-stable-ultra-long-1d-carbon.html. Finally, carbon nanotubes have been confirmed as the fastest proton conductors ever discovered http://phys.org/news/2016-04-tiny-tubes-fast-lane.html.

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