FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- A 10-year project aimed at creating synthetic human genomes is now underway.
- Chile’s solar power generation has expanded in recent years so much that, at times, it has been providing customers with free electricity, (i.e. with negative rates).
- Plans are underway to convert a portion of Cadillac’s 925 stores into virtual dealerships that will be low on overhead, big on sophisticated technology, and have no cars on hand.
- A judge in Oregon has ruled that an Army veteran who identifies as neither male nor female can legally be considered “nonbinary”.
by John L. Petersen
Music Maestro Robert Coxon Coming to Berkeley Springs
One of the world’s extraordinary composers, Robert Haig Coxon, is coming to Berkeley Springs Transition Talks to perform a concert and a series of workshops on the 15th and 16th of July.
Master of the ambient, moving, new age genre, Coxon along with his partner Lily Wong, will be presenting The Coxon Experience, a half-day long immersive workshop designed with special musical compositions that Kryon has said can increase health, longevity and manifestation.
Robert is internationally acclaimed for providing the musical background for Lee Carrol’s channelings of Kryon in major events across the world. He has scored TV series, many commissioned projects and produced many albums, some of which are among the world’s best sellers.
For a taste of Robert’s extraordinary music, check out this link to his best-selling album The Silent Path.
This will be an extraordinary, uplifting experience with a Friday night concert and Saturday workshop.
Complete information can be found at www.transitiontalks.org.
Microsoft Finds Cancer Clues in Search Queries – (New York Times – June 7, 2016)
Microsoft scientists have demonstrated that by analyzing large samples of search engine queries they may in some cases be able to identify internet users who are suffering from pancreatic cancer, even before they have received a diagnosis of the disease. Dr. Eric Horvitz and Dr. Ryen White, the Microsoft researchers, and John Paparrizos, a Columbia University graduate student said they hoped their work could lead to early detection of cancer. The researchers focused on searches conducted on Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, that indicated someone had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. From there, they worked backward, looking for earlier queries that could have shown that the Bing user was experiencing symptoms before the diagnosis. Those early searches, they believe, can be warning flags. While five-year survival rates for pancreatic cancer are extremely low, early detection of the disease can prolong life in a very small percentage of cases. The study suggests that early screening can increase the five-year survival rate of pancreatic patients to 5 -7%, from just 3%. The data used by the researchers was anonymized, so the individuals conducting the searches could not be contacted. A logical next step would be to figure out what to do with that search information. Health-related data generated from web search histories is still new territory for the medical profession. Microsoft researchers have had significant success in finding early evidence of adverse drug reactions from patterns observed in web logs. In 2013, they detected unreported side effects of prescription drugs before they were found by the Food and Drug Administration’s warning system. (Editor’s note: A significant issue with big data analysis is how – and even if – the analysis can be usefully applied at the level of specific individuals rather than only applied to large groups. The legal issues are substantial.)
‘Twisty’ Molecule Essential to Life Spotted in Deep Space For 1st Time – (Space.com – June 14, 2016)
Molecules with “right-handed” and “left-handed” versions are essential to all life on Earth, and have been found in meteors and comets. Now, for the first time, one has been spotted in interstellar space. Discovering such molecules, called chiral molecules, in deep space can help researchers understand the development of life on Earth, which is rich in those complex molecules — what the researchers called “life’s first handshake.” Key biological reactions on earth rely on molecules with the property called chirality — compounds that can form in two different varieties that are mirror images of each other, sort of like left and right hands. Though the molecules are made of the same components, it’s impossible to flip one around to make it exactly match the other. On Earth, most chiral molecules exist largely in a single formation, even though when you create them chemically from scratch, both varieties will form. Many chemical reactions only work when molecules of a particular “handedness” interact with each other. “This [discovery] is going to provide us with a laboratory to try to test theories about the role that chiral molecules played in the origins of life here on Earth and how that chirality might play a role in the origins of life elsewhere in the galaxy,” Brett McGuire, a researcher at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Virginia and co-first author on the new work.
Species-wide Gene Editing, Applauded and Feared, Gets a Push – (New York Times – June 8, 2016)
A revolutionary technology known as “gene drive,” which for the first time gives humans the power to alter or perhaps eliminate entire populations of organisms in the wild, has stirred both excitement and fear since scientists proposed a means to construct it two years ago. A gene drive involves potentially transforming an entire wild species over a few generations by modifying just a few individuals. Our ability to do that has so far been stymied because any changes typically reduce an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in its natural habitat: natural selection eliminates the altered genes. Gene drives overcome this by ensuring that a particular gene is transmitted to all of an individual’s offspring, rather than the usual half, even if that makes them less fit. The phenomenon has long been known to exist in nature, and Crispr provides an effective way to harness it. Scientists dream of deploying gene drive, for example, to wipe out malaria-carrying mosquitoes that cause the deaths of 300,000 African children each year, or invasive rodents that damage island ecosystems. Some scientists have called on the federal government to regulate it, and some environmental watchdogs have called for a moratorium. However, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, the premier advisory group for the federal government on scientific matters, endorsed continued research on the technology, concluding after nearly a yearlong study that while it poses risks, its possible benefits make it crucial to pursue. The group also set out a path to conducting what it called “carefully controlled field trials,” despite what some scientists say is the substantial risk of inadvertent release into the environment. At the same time, it is uncertain how the technology will be regulated. Coming up with an international regulatory framework is especially crucial, members of the committee said, given that gene drives will not recognize national or political boundaries.
Scientists Unveil Plan to Create Synthetic Human Genomes – (PhysOrg – June 3, 2016)
A group of American-led scientists and entrepreneurs has announced the start of a 10-year project aimed at creating synthetic human genomes in a move that could revolutionize the field of biotechnology but raises troubling ethical concerns. The ambitious proposal could make it possible to grow human organs for transplant and speed up the development of vaccines. But the idea has already sparked criticism due to the potential of one day creating children with no biological parents, and due to the secrecy surrounding a recent closed-door meeting on the subject. Its proponents envision a project on the same scale as the Human Genome Project, which mapped and published the full, sequenced human genome in 2003—or the 99.9 percent that we all have in common. Dubbed “Human Genome Project-write” or “HGP-write”—since synthesizing would amount to “writing” rather than “reading” our genetic code—the project aims to reduce the cost of engineering DNA segments in the lab. The project’s backers said they hoped to launch it this year after raising $100 million around the world from public, private, philanthropic and academic sources. They did not provide an estimate for total costs, saying only that it would likely be less than the $3 billion for the Human Genome Project. Sequencing the human genome requires decoding the exact order of about three billion base pairs of DNA packed into 30,000 genes.
Scientists Find Form of Crispr Gene Editing With New Capabilities – (New York Times – June 3, 2016)
Crispr describes a series of DNA sequences discovered in microbes, part of a system to defend against attacking viruses. Microbes make thousands of forms of Crispr, most of which are just starting to be investigated by scientists. But recently researchers demonstrated just how much is left to discover. They found that an ordinary mouth bacterium makes a form of Crispr that breaks apart not DNA, but RNA — the molecular messenger used by cells to turn genes into proteins. If scientists can get this process to work in human cells, they may open up a new front in gene engineering, gaining the ability to precisely adjust the proteins in cells, for instance, or to target cancer cells. Many viruses do not contain DNA. Instead, their genetic information is encoded in RNA, DNA’s single-stranded cousin, which they use to hijack the genes of their hosts and cause them to make new viruses. Some of these RNA viruses, such as H.I.V. and poliovirus, attack our species. Many others attack bacteria. Previously discovered Crispr molecules are very good at whacking apart DNA but don’t protect bacteria from an RNA virus. Dr. Feng Zhang of MIT and his colleagues discovered that bacteria with C2c2 make molecules that can attack RNA and chop it up, destroying the invaders.
Reverse Feeding Tube Is Approved to Treat Obesity – (St. Louis Post Dispatch – June 14, 2016)
People struggling with obesity can now eat a meal and pump the food out of their stomachs straight into the toilet before it gets absorbed. The AspireAssist device is a reverse feeding tube that siphons food out of the stomach through a port implanted in the abdomen. The device, which was developed and tested by Washington University researchers, can remove up to 30% of calories from a meal before it is digested. It has just been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “It’s a form of calorie restriction that takes into account the desire to eat,” said Dr. Shelby Sullivan, who led the initial study at Washington University with funding from the Pennsylvania company Aspire Bariatrics. A co-founder of the company who developed the product, Dr. Samuel Klein, is director of the university’s Center for Human Nutrition. In the small study, seven out of 10 participants who used the device for two years experienced an average of 20% weight loss. Critics have called aspiration therapy “assisted bulimia” because of similarities to the eating disorder marked by bingeing and purging food. Sullivan said the patients in the trial did not exhibit any bingeing or other abnormal eating behaviors, and in fact ate fewer calories because it takes longer to chew food into the desired consistency to aspirate it out of the stomach. “Patients eat less. You have to chew food until it disintegrates. They have to chew so much they just get sick of chewing,” she said.
Scientists Say Neuron Repair is Possible – (Futurism – June 14, 2106)
Mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. They cause reactions that generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a source of chemical energy in a cell. A typical animal cell contains 1,000 to 2,000 mitochondria. Researchers from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in the US restored mitochondrial mobility in a group of mice and observed regeneration of nerve cells. Mitochondria are mobile in young cells and as a cell matures, the movement is restricted by a protein called syntaphilin. This protein behaves as a brake or anchor for mitochondria. Headed by researcher Zu-Hang Sheng, the team genetically removed syntaphilin from damaged sciatic nerves that contained non-functioning mitochondria. This allowed mitochondria to regain mobility and resulted in the regrowth of other mitochondria that eventually restored the neurons’ ability to repair themselves. If the same results can be achieved in clinical tests, this process could help combat devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, an irreversible brain disease characterized by the development of amyloid plaques and tau tangles that lead to the death of nerve cells.
Norway Becomes the First Country to Ban Deforestation – (Nation of Change – June 8, 2016)
On May 26th the Norwegian Parliament pledged to be deforestation-free. They are the first country in history to ban deforestation. The ban is a part of the government’s procurement policy and includes eliminating the use of any product that contributes to deforestation as well as a request that the government exercise due care for the protection of biodiversity in its investments. This will also affect how Norway sources products such as palm oil, soy, beef, and timber in order to leave little to no impact on their ecosystems. These products are responsible for 40% of deforestation between 2000 and 2011 in several countries, including Argentina and Brazil. In addition to pledging to stop deforestation, Norway is also responsible for funding several environmental projects worldwide, including $250 million invested in protecting Guyana’s forest. They also paid $1 billion to Brazil for completing a 2008 agreement to prevent deforestation.
Experiment Turns Waste CO2 to Stone – (BBC News – June 9, 2016)
Researchers report an experiment in Iceland where they have pumped CO2 and water underground into volcanic rock. Reactions with the minerals in the deep basalts convert the carbon dioxide to a stable, immobile chalky solid. “Of our 220 tons of injected CO2, 95% was converted to limestone in less than two years,” said lead author Juerg Matter from Southampton University, UK. “It was a huge surprise to all the scientists involved in the project, and we thought, ‘Wow! This is really fast’,” he recalled. Previous experiments have seen pure CO2 injected into sandstone, or deep, salty aquifers. Chosen sites – which have included disused oil and gas wells – have relied on layers of impermeable capping rocks to hold down the carbon dioxide. But the fear is always that the CO2 could find a way to leak back out into the atmosphere. The Carbfix project on Iceland, on the other hand, seeks to solidify the unwanted carbon in place. Working with the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant outside Reykjavik, it combined the waste CO2 with water to make a slightly acidic liquid that was then sent hundreds of meters down into the volcanic basalts that make up so much of the North Atlantic island. The low pH water (3.2) worked to dissolve the calcium and magnesium ions in the basalts, which then reacted with the carbon dioxide to make calcium and magnesium carbonates. Cores drilled into the experimental site pulled up rock with the tell-tale white carbonates occupying the pore spaces. The researchers also tagged the CO2 with carbon-14, a radioactive form of the element. In this way, they were able to tell if any of the injected CO2 was leaking back to the surface or finding its way out through a distant watercourse. No such escape was detected.
Banning Plastic Bags Is Great for the World, Right? Not So Fast – (Wired – June 10, 2016)
Last month, the New York City Council passed a 5-cent-per-bag fee on single-use bags handed out by most retailers. Two weeks ago, the Massachusetts State Senate passed a measure that would ban plastic bags from being dispensed by many retail businesses and require a charge of 10 cents or more for a recycled paper or reusable bag. The Massachusetts proposal may not become law this year, but it’s the latest sign that the plastic bag industry is losing this war. Already in Massachusetts, 32 towns and cities have passed bag bans or fees. So have at least 88 localities in California, including the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, plus cities and towns in more than a dozen other states and more than a dozen other countries. Bag bans cut this litter off at the source: In San Jose, California, a plastic bag ban led to an 89% reduction in the number of plastic bags winding up in the city’s storm drains. But advocates of these laws and journalists who cover the issue often neglect to ask what will replace plastic bags and what the environmental impact of that replacement will be. That’s leading to a split in the anti-bag movement. The reality is “It’s complicated.” This article looks at some of the details.
Facebook Unveils DeepText: An AI With ‘Near-Human’ Level of Language and Context Comprehension – (IB Times – June 2, 2016)
Last month, Google open sourced “SyntaxNet” — an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that, through the use of deep neural networks, aims to read and understand human language in order to process it and derive real meaning. In another step toward creating a deep learning-based AI capable of grasping the way humans talk with a near-human level accuracy, Facebook has now unveiled its “DeepText” — a natural language processing engine that comprehends the textual content of several thousand posts per second, spanning more than 20 languages. Currently, a major challenge researchers face vis-à-vis creation of truly human-like AI is the inability to create algorithms that can understand subtle nuances in language. This is the discrepancy Facebook hopes to resolve using DeepText. The AI would not only understand the words individually, it would also comprehend them in the proper context, thereby detecting the “intent” behind those words.
Google’s Art Machine Just Wrote Its First Song – (The Verge – June 1, 2016)
Google’s newest machine learning project released its first piece of generated art, a 90-second piano melody created through a trained neural network, provided with just four notes up front. (The drums weren’t generated by the algorithm, but added for emphasis after the fact.) It’s the first tangible product of Google’s Magenta program, which is designed to put Google’s machine learning systems to work creating art and music systems. In the long term, Magenta wants to advance the state of machine-generated art and build a community of artists around it — but in the short term, that means building generative systems that plug in to the tools artists are already working with. “We’ll start with audio and video support, tools for working with formats like MIDI, and platforms that help artists connect to machine learning models,” the team wrote in an announcement. “We want to make it super simple to play music along with a Magenta performance model.” Magenta is built on top of Google’s TensorFlow system, which is already open-source, and the new project also plans to publish its code as open-source on GitHub. “We believe this area is in its infancy, and expect to see fast progress here,” the announcement says.
The Web’s Creator Looks to Reinvent It – (New York Times – June 7, 2016)
Twenty-seven years ago, Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web as a way for scientists to easily find information. It has since become the world’s most powerful medium for knowledge, communications and commerce — but that doesn’t mean Mr. Berners-Lee is happy with all of the consequences. The project is in its early days, but the discussions — and caliber of the people involved — underscored how the World Wide Web’s direction in recent years has stirred a deep anxiety among some technologists. The revelations by Edward J. Snowden that the web has been used by governments for spying and the realization that companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google have become gatekeepers to our digital lives have added to concerns. Mr. Berners-Lee and Mr. Kahle and others brainstormed at the event, called the Decentralized Web Summit, over new ways that web pages could be distributed broadly without the standard control of a web server computer, as well as ways of storing scientific data without having to pay storage fees to companies like Amazon, Dropbox or Google. Such efforts would make it harder to censor content. “Edward Snowden showed we’ve inadvertently built the world’s largest surveillance network with the web,” said Brewster Kahle, head of the nonprofit Internet Archive and an internet activist, whose group organized the conference.
All-in-one Digital Table for Ikea Suggests Recipes Based on Leftover Ingredients – (Dezeen – May 27, 2016)
An interactive table, developed by students at Lund University and Eindhoven University of Technology together with design consultancy IDEO, can identify an ingredient placed on it via a camera and image-recognition technology. It will then suggest other ingredients to combine with it and can take the user through a full step-by-step recipe via instructions projected directly onto the surface of the table. “It sees what grocery you put onto it and decides through color, shape and size what grocery it is,” explains Lund University student Ingrid Allenbach in the embedded videoclip. “It will then suggest what will go well with it, give you recipes, and guide you through how to cook them.” Magnetic coils designed to fit inside the table could also allow it to act as an induction hob, allowing users cook directly on the wooden surface. The table includes a crank, which means its top can be lowered so that it is the right height to eat at after preparing food. The ideas behind the table are to promote cooking and reduce the amount of food that gets thrown away.”It is a multipurpose table,” explains Allenbach. “You can eat on it, you can prepare food on it, you can cook on it. You cook with a heat-insulated pan so it does not leave any burn marks on the wood.” (Editor’s note: And as soon as it can communicate with your smart refrigerator – which will self-maintain a dated inventory of its contents – you won’t even need to select the foods to put on the table. The fridge will be able to tell you which foods are going to spoil soonest and so should be used as immediately as possible and the table will suggest recipes using other ingredients that you already have on hand to complement the main items. Do people want such appliances?)
Chile Gives Away Free Electricity, Reflecting Global Struggle Toward Sustainability – (Christian Science Monitor – June 4, 2016)
Chile’s solar power generation has exploded in recent years, to such an extent that it has been providing customers with electricity for free. In parts of the country, according to a Bloomberg report, spot prices plummeted to zero on 113 days in the first four months of this year, on track to smash last year’s total of 192 days. While this is a boon for consumers, it is clearly an unsustainable model for the power industry. As Chile grapples with some unique circumstances, the struggle also reflects a broader trend across the globe, as governments, citizens and companies alike seek a sustainable path toward cleaner energy. On the other side of the Pacific, The Australia Institute, a progressive think tank, recently carried out a survey of households already equipped with rooftop solar panels – of which the country boasts 1.5 million – and found that 80% are considering buying batteries to store the power they generate. One in four Australians, according to the report, also want to reach such a point of energy self-sufficiency that they can unplug entirely from the grid. The momentum towards a global economy based on renewable energy is building, and while the benefits espoused by proponents are legion, the utilities industry faces an uncertain future if it fails to adapt. “Every new solar panel installed on… rooftops chips away at power utilities’ centralized production model,” notes Reuters. “Unless they reinvent themselves soon, these giants risk becoming the dinosaurs of the energy market.”
Nissan Announces Development of the World’s First SOFC-powered Vehicle System That Runs on Bio-ethanol Electric Power – (Automotive World – June 14, 2016)
Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. is currently researching and developing a Solid Oxide Fuel-Cell (SOFC)-powered system that runs on bio-ethanol electric power. The new system— a world first for automotive use—features an e-Bio Fuel-Cell with an SOFC power generator. SOFC is a fuel cell utilizing the reaction of multiple fuels, including ethanol and natural gas, with oxygen to produce electricity with high efficiency. The e-Bio Fuel Cell generates electricity through the SOFC (power generator) using bio-ethanol stored in the vehicle. The e-Bio Fuel-Cell utilizes hydrogen transformed from fuel via a reformer and atmospheric oxygen, with the subsequent electrochemical reaction producing electricity to power the vehicle. Unlike conventional systems, e-Bio Fuel-Cell features SOFC as its power source, affording greater power efficiency to give the vehicle cruising ranges similar to gasoline-powered cars (more than 600km). In addition, the e-Bio Fuel-Cell car’s distinct electric-drive features—including silent drive, linear start-up and brisk acceleration—allow users to enjoy the joys and comfort of a pure electric vehicle (EV).
Cadillac Bets on Virtual Dealerships – (Wall St. Journal – June 5, 2016)
Buyers walking into a Cadillac dealer in the near future could find an interesting thing on the car lot: nothing. General Motors Co. ’s luxury division has about three times as many U.S. stores as German luxury auto makers or Toyota Motor Co. ’s Lexus, but sells only about half the volume. Short of steering around rigid state franchise laws and hammering out financial settlements to shutter stores, a plan is being hatched to convert a portion of Cadillac’s 925 stores into virtual dealerships that will be low on overhead and big on sophisticated technology. In a somewhat unprecedented way of moving metal, Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen will this month begin looking for commitments from some store owners willing to set up showrooms where buyers can get a car serviced or learn about products via virtual reality headsets without getting behind the wheel. Driving off immediately with a new vehicle will be impossible because these stores won’t have inventory. Virtual stores are a part of “Project Pinnacle,” an extensive retail-strategy overhaul by Mr. de Nysschen first introduced to dealers a few months ago in closed-door meetings, dealers said. Hired by Chief Executive Mary Barra in 2014 to turn the struggling luxury maker around, Mr. de Nysschen is revamping the way the company compensates its dealers by rewarding them less on the basis of vehicles sold (an industry practice known as stair stepping) and more on the way those dealers mimic better performing luxury brands with perks such as free roadside assistance.
Welcome to Larry Page’s Secret Flying-Car Factories – (Bloomberg – June 9, 2016)
Three years ago, Silicon Valley developed a fleeting infatuation with a startup called Zee.Aero. The company had set up shop right next to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., which was curious, because Google tightly controls most of the land in the area. Then a reporter spotted patent filings showing Zee.Aero was working on a small, all-electric plane that could take off and land vertically—a flying car. In the handful of news articles that ensued, all the startup would say was that it wasn’t affiliated with Google or any other technology company. Then it stopped answering media inquiries altogether. Turns out, Zee.Aero belongs to Larry Page, Google’s co-founder. Page has personally funded Zee.Aero since its launch in 2010 while demanding that his involvement stay hidden from the public. Zee.Aero, however, is just one part of Page’s plan to usher in an age of personalized air travel, free from gridlocked streets and the cramped indignities of modern flight. Like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, Page is using his personal fortune to build the future of his childhood dreams. Zee.Aero now employs close to 150 people. Its operations have expanded to an airport hangar in Hollister, about a 70-minute drive south from Mountain View, where a pair of prototype aircraft takes regular test flights. The company also has a manufacturing facility on NASA’s Ames Research Center campus at the edge of Mountain View. Page has spent more than $100 million on Zee.Aero, and he’s not done yet. Last year a second Page-backed flying-car startup, Kitty Hawk, began operations and registered its headquarters to a two-story office building on the end of a tree-lined cul-de-sac about a half-mile away from Zee’s offices. Kitty Hawk’s staffers, sequestered from the Zee.Aero team, are working on a competing design.
Juicy, Bloody Burger Made From Plants Impresses Bill Gates and Chef David Chang – (PETA – May 12, 2016)
When Bill Gates comes knocking, you know your start-up company must be doing something right. Gates saw in Impossible Foods the potential to revolutionize the world for animals, the environment, and our health. The company, dedicated to creating plant-based foods, has raised $182 million from Khosla Ventures, Horizon Ventures, Bill Gates, Google Ventures, UBS, Viking Global Investors, and a number of others. Recently, Impossible Foods tested its first product, the Impossible Burger, a vegan burger so realistic that people are literally freaking out over it. The burger recipe is unlike any other of its kind. Impossible Foods figured out how to isolate proteins and other nutrients from plants to recreate the taste and texture of a burger on a molecular level. It also contains more protein than a beef burger, and no hormones, antibiotics, or cholesterol. The company’s greatest discovery was that a molecule called heme catalyzes the flavors in meat. The Impossible Burger uses a legume-derived heme-containing protein to the same effect. Here at the Impossible Food website is a video clip of the burger.
Egg Producers Pledge to Stop Grinding Newborn Male Chickens to Death – (Washington Post – June 10, 2016) On the day they’re born, all the fluffy male chicks born to egg-laying hens at hatcheries are gruesomely killed — usually by being run, while conscious, through what is essentially a blender. That’s because they’re useless to the industry. They can’t grow up to lay eggs, and they weren’t bred to be the fast-growing chickens sold as meat. But that’s going to change. In what counts as huge news in the animal welfare world, United Egg Producers — the industry group that represents hatcheries that produce 95 percent of all eggs produced in the United States — announced Thursday that it would end this “culling” of millions of chicks by 2020, or as soon as it’s “economically feasible” and an alternative is “commercially available,” according to the Humane League, which negotiated the agreement. What’s the alternative? The main one is called in-ovo sexing, and it identifies the gender of a future chick inside a fertilized egg. The technology, developed in Germany and the Netherlands, will mean those male chicks will never be born — or ground or gassed or suffocated, the kill methods some hatcheries employ. Other alternatives are also being explored, including one that would turn male chick eggs a different color from those of females, Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
An Interview with the Hacker Probably Selling Your Password Right Now – (Wired – June 9, 2016)
For the last few weeks, the tech world’s security teams have been practically under siege. On an almost daily basis, new collections of data from hundreds of millions of stolen accounts have appeared on the dark web, ripped from major web firms and sold for as little as a few hundred dollars each worth of bitcoins. And behind each of those clearance sales has been one pseudonym: “Peace_of_mind.” “Peace_of_mind,” or “Peace,” sells data on the dark web black market TheRealDeal. His or her “store” page has a 100-percent satisfaction rating and feedback like “A+++,” and “follows up with your questions and delivers promptly.” And Peace’s growing selection of merchandise includes 167 million user accounts from LinkedIn, 360 million from MySpace, 68 million from Tumblr, 100 million from the Russian social media site VK.com, and most recently another 71 million from Twitter, adding up to more than 800 million accounts and growing. Just how Peace obtained that data is far from clear. Wired approached Peace through the RealDeal market messaging system and interviewed him or her via encrypted, anonymous IM. Almost none of Peace’s claims could be confirmed. Take them only as the unverified statements of a mysterious, pseudonymous, brazenly criminal hacker. Here, with some editing for clarity, is our conversation, which took place on Monday, June 6.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
The Magic of Donald Trump – (New York Review of Books – May 26, 2016)
The Apprentice debuted on NBC in 2004 with 20.7 million viewers, ranking it seventh among all primetime programs. Twenty-eight million people tuned in to watch the season finale. The numbers went down from there but still in today’s “fragmented entertainment marketplace” those numbers are, well, huge. Week after week for a dozen years millions of Americans saw Donald J. Trump portraying the business magus, the grand vizier of capitalism, the wise man of the boardroom, a living confection whose every step and word bespoke gravitas and experience and power and authority and…money. We are told again and again: his is the most improbable political story in decades, perhaps in history. And yet that a reality television megastar, as Trump might put it, could outpoll sixteen dimly to barely known politicians, some new faces, many also-rans, seems less than shocking. Presidential elections have long been a windfall for television. In the casually corrupt American political system the candidates serve as bagmen carrying cash from the corporate donors to the networks. But Trump has made possible another revenue stream. He himself is a ratings extravaganza. If television is the business of delivering audiences to advertisers, Trump has delivered audiences as no candidate ever has or could. From the beginning about one in three Republican primary voters have agreed with him, have found in him the charisma Max Weber famously defined as “a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least exceptional powers or qualities.” (Editor’s note: This article is somewhat out of date now that Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee, but it’s well worth reading for its perspective.)
Merkel Wants Russia to Be Part of European Economic Zone – (Ukraine Today – June 4, 2016)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that sanctions imposed against Russia over the Ukraine crisis were not an end in themselves and that implementation of the Minsk peace agreement was key to getting them lifted. Merkel also said that in the long term, the European Union should aim for a common economic zone with Moscow which would extend from Russia’s Pacific port of Vladivostok to Lisbon. See also: this article from Tass, the Russian News Agency.
Russian Government Hackers Penetrated DNC, Stole Opposition Research on Trump – (Washington Post – June 14, 2016)
Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to committee officials and security experts who responded to the breach. The intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC’s system that they also were able to read all email and chat traffic, said DNC officials and the security experts. The networks of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were also targeted by Russian spies, as were the computers of some Republican political action committees, U.S. officials said. But details on those cases were not available. A Russian Embassy spokesman said he had no knowledge of such intrusions. See also this article from Forbes: What Russia’s DNC Hack Tells Us About Hillary Clinton’s Private Email Server.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Army Veteran Legally Not Male or Female, Judge Rules – (CNN – June 12, 2016)
Army veteran Jamie Shupe, who identifies as neither male nor female, can legally be considered nonbinary, a judge ruled. In what legal experts believe is Oregon’s first such ruling, Judge Amy Holmes Hehn said Friday that the Portland resident’s sex has been changed from female to nonbinary. “It feels amazing to be free from a binary sex classification system that inadequately addressed who I really am, a system in which I felt confined,” Shupe said. Shupe was assigned the gender of male at birth, but started transitioning to a female in 2013, more than a decade after retiring from the military as a sergeant first class, Shupe said. Shupe, who lived in Pittsburgh at the time, said transitioning to a female was the only option available then. “Oregon law has allowed for people to petition a court for a gender change for years, but the law doesn’t specify that it has to be either male or female,” said civil rights attorney Lake J. Perriguey, who filed the petition. “The law just says, ‘change.’ Historically, people have asked for a gender change from male to female and the other way around, but Jamie is the first to ask for the gender of “nonbinary,” Perriguey said.
Finding Home Again – (Tribeza – June 8, 2016)
A unique, master planned 27-acre community in far East Austin, TX is actually a community built for the formerly and chronically homeless. “I would live here!” a visitor gushed as she snapped pictures of the cottage’s interior during a recent tour. Her reaction is what the team behind Community First! calls a bell-ringing moment. Thomas Aitchison, communications director for Mobile Loaves & Fishes (the group behind Community First!) explained, To Aitchison and his team, it’s confirmation that they’ve achieved their goals of creating a place that gives dignity and support to those who have often gone a lifetime without. The community includes roughly 120 micro-homes, built from 11 different designs. All of them feature large porches and are placed at angles to face each other, meant to encourage community and giving the village a whimsical, almost Dr. Seuss vibe. The homes, which come fully furnished (many were decorated by Austin interior designers donating their time) are essentially bedrooms with electricity, a crockpot, a microwave and a refrigerator. Residents share laundry, bathroom facilities and state-of-the-art community kitchens. Some of the homes have screened-in porches; others have large upstairs decks. “We’re really curious to see what happens when we open up this side of the property and people get to pick which place they want,” explained Aitchison. “Are they going to choose the party home? Are they going to choose the smaller ones off to the side? Are they going to try to choose the home that looks like a miniature mansion? It’s all up to them. It’s all about empowering them from when they first step on the property to make that decision.” Article includes photos.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
That Time an Astronaut Lost His Wedding Ring in Space – (Wired – June 10, 2016)
Three years after Charlie Duke met Neil Armstrong’s “The eagle has landed” with “Roger, twang—tranquility,” he found himself on the other end of the radio, as the lunar module pilot on Apollo 16. And he faced a very different, unexpected challenge—one no astronaut had trained for. On the second day of the 1972 11-day trip to the moon and back, command module pilot Ken Mattingly lost his wedding ring. “It just floated off somewhere, and none of us could find it,” Duke says. Mattingly spent his free moments desperately searching for the ring. Astronauts may be the most prepared humans doing anything, anywhere. They know the components and mechanics of their ships inside and out. They train for years. They develop and incessantly practice protocols and procedures for endless worst-case scenarios. But for all their contingency planning, for all their years of practice drills, they hadn’t prepared for this. You can guess what happened from the next sentences, but to find out how it happened (which is pretty remarkable), read the article. Here’s the point the author closes with: “If not even the astronauts can truly plan anything, neither can we. As Duke put it, ‘you plan and plan and plan but the unexpected always jumps up and bites you’—or slowly floats right into your hand.”
Who’s Getting Richer? Hardly Anyone – (Investopedia – June 7, 2016)
The latest federal income data show what looks on the surface like robust economic gains, with Americans reporting 4.6% more income in 2014 than 2013. But that’s misleading. From analyzing the official data: income per American reported on tax returns in 2014 was $30,320, or $693 less than in the year 2000. Ten percent of all the increased pay earned by everyone in America was awarded to just 130,500 people, who each earned $1 million or more in salaries and bonuses in 2014, Social Security Administration data show. Put another way, one worker in about 1,200 got a dime out of each dollar of higher pay nationwide. The 135 million workers making less than $75,000 got an average raise of just 7 cents an hour before taxes, not that anyone would notice. Slightly more than half of America’s workers made less than $30,000; their average 2014 gross pay was $1,050 per month. The two groups who won: workers with sophisticated skills, especially those who can command $100,000 to $400,000 a year. That pay level includes many physicians, lawyers, bankers, financial analysts and managers of enterprises owned by investors, nonprofits and government. The second group doing well consists of those already rich enough to own stocks, whether privately held or publicly traded.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Nano Film Could Help Lead the Way to More Bendable Wearables – (UberGizmo – June 13, 2016)
The majority of wearables that we have at the moment resemble watches, in which we have the main display and a strap that goes around the wrist – which is pretty much the only “bendable” part of the device. To go beyond that, more than just the display itself needs to be flexible, like its circuit board, its battery, sensors, and so on. Researchers at the University of Illinois and the Korea University may have come up with something that can achieve that in the form of nano film. The nano film is both bendable and flexible, not to mention cheap to produce and conductive with electricity, all of which could lead to thinner and more bendable wearables. To top things off, it seems that the film is also capable of retaining its properties after repeated cycles of stretching and bending, meaning that it will be strong enough for the daily rigors of life. According to Sam Yoon, a professor of mechanical engineering at Korea University, he claims that this new nano film “establishes world-record combination of high transparency and low electrical resistance, the latter at least 10-fold greater than the previous existing record.” But the world of wearable isn’t really quite that constrained. See also: Lenovo Unveils Smart Shoe That Tracks Your Fitness
Inside the Company That Wants to Be the Netflix of Lucid Dreaming– (Atlantic – June 1, 2016)
What if it were possible to choose your dreams every night? The Kiev-based company Luciding claims that its signature headset, called the LucidCatcher, puts you in control of your dreams by administering a minor electrical shock to the brain during REM sleep. MEL films toured the company and created this short documentary, Kiev Dreamers, to highlight the growing industry centered around escapism in Ukraine. “Many people are trying to somehow escape reality,” says Luciding CEO Nikita Antonov of the current climate in the country. “But they are doing it through drugs and alcohol, and we are opposed to that.” Video clip embedded in article. (Editor’s note: This article is basically an introduction to an infomercial. At least at the concept level, it’s an interesting product; we just wish there were other, more objective reports on how – and how well – it really works, but we couldn’t find any.)
Ginkgo Bioworks Grabs $100 Million in Financing to Buy a Whole Lot of Synthetic DNA – (TechCrunch – June 8, 2016)
Ginkgo Bioworks, the Boston-based biotech startup making all sorts of scents and flavors from microbugs, has pulled in $100 million in Series C funding to obtain 600 million base pairs of manufactured DNA – or what Ginkgo claims is the “largest amount of synthetic DNA ever purchased.” The startup plans to use the millions of genetic base pairs to test its production metal in new areas such as “commodity chemicals, industrial enzymes, and human health markets.” This new form of biotech (read – not pharmaceutical manufacturing) started heating up in 2014, as production costs dramatically dropped. Ginkgo still faces few competitors, including West Coast counterpart Zymergen, which has raised $45 million to date, to mass produce consumer materials by manipulating microbial DNA. Ginkgo currently makes products for the flavor, fragrance and food industries as well as works with DARPA to produce probiotics that will help U.S. soldiers stave off stomach bugs they might pick up overseas but started looking at expanding to other industries last year.
Fully Loaded: Inside the Shadowy World of America’s 10 Biggest Gunmakers – (Mother Jones – June 14, 206)
They are all white, all middle-aged, and all men. A few live openly lavish lifestyles, but the majority fly under the radar. Rarely is there news about them in the mainstream media or even the trade press. Their obscurity would seem unremarkable if we were talking about the biggest manufacturers of auto accessories or heating systems. But these are America’s top gunmakers—leaders of the nation’s most controversial industry. They have kept their heads down and their fingerprints off regulations designed to protect their businesses—foremost a law that shields gun companies from liability for crimes committed with their products. With this investigation, Mother Jones set out to break through the opacity surrounding the $8 billion firearms industry and the men who control it. While the three largest companies disclose some financials, the rest are privately held. Some are further shrouded by private-equity funds or shell corporations based in overseas tax havens.
Elon Musk: We’re Probably Living in a Video Game – (GizModo – June 2, 2016)
Given how much time Elon Musk spends trying to save the world, it’s almost surprising that he thinks we’re all just living in someone’s video game anyway. Or, it would be if he wasn’t well-known for his dramatic predictions and if he hadn’t also added that there’s a chance we’ll become pets to superintelligent AI and so need to start figuring out how to physically merge with technology to save ourselves. Here’s part of what he actually said: “We have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year. Soon we’ll have virtual reality, augmented reality. If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now. Then you just say, okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale. So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions. Tell me what’s wrong with that argument. Is there a flaw in that argument?”
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Texas Man Buys Dam Online to Protect Home from Flooding, and It Worked – (GizModo – June 11, 2016)
As thousands were evacuated across multiple counties in Texas due to horrible flooding, one man and his family are living high and dry thanks to something he bought on the internet. Randy Wagner, a resident of Rosharon in Brazoria County, took a chance on a product he found online called an AquaDam, which the site claims is the “world’s largest water filled cofferdam.” Wagner traveled to Louisiana to purchase the dam, and it took him and two other men a few hours to fill up the 400 feet of 30 inch high tubes made of plastic and fabric with water. (Think: Huge inner tube filled with water.) “To not know what that level was going to stop at, I needed to prepare for something that no one has seen,” said Wagner. As the waters rose to around 27 inches, the Wagner household remained protected. “I was the crazy guy. Everybody was kinda going by, laughing at me. But today they are really impressed with this AquaDam,” Wagner said. The dam cost him around $8,300, which he said was a small price to pay for not having to deal with home repairs after the waters receded. Article includes photos.
JUST FOR FUN
London’s First Naked Dining Experience Opens – (BBC News – June 11, 2016)
London has a new restaurant serving raw, or “naked” food, and its customers are asked to dress accordingly. The pop-up venue already has 40,000 people on the waiting list for a table. Article includes video clip.
A FINAL QUOTE
The future is not something we enter. The future is something we create. – Leonard I. Sweet, semiotician and theologian
A special thanks to: Bernard Calil, Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks. [email protected]
Edited by John L. Petersen