FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- An Italian surgeon wants to perform a head transplant by next year; he has plenty of volunteers.
- Physicists are building a “star in a jar” — a miniature version of the how our Sun creates energy through fusion.
- A new tax is reducing junk food purchases in Mexico.
- Coolest new toy: drones made of Legos.
by John L. Petersen
Gregg Braden Returns in October
Internationally acclaimed author, Gregg Braden, returns again to Transition Talks on Saturday, the 29th of October. This will be a whole new presentation that Gregg has prepared that shows how the cycles and patterns of the past point directly at what is now coming our way.
What would it mean to discover that life events—everything from our success and abundance to our betrayals and hurts—are based upon natural rhythms that can be known and predicted? Does an artifact from our ancient past hold the key to understanding nature’s cycles in our lives today? The recent discovery of Fractal Time now gives us everything we need to answer these questions, and more. Doing so, however, opens the door to even deeper mysteries!
We always have a great crowd when Gregg is with us, so plan for this now and register as soon as possible to assure yourself of a seat at this transformational day.
Full information is at www.transitiontalks.org
Steve McDonald PostScript Interview Available for Viewing
If you couldn’t make it to the great session we had with Steve McDonald last month, you can get a taste of the very provocative presentation in our PostScript discussion.
We discuss not only the historical ways in which humans and social systems have developed but also about what is likely on our horizon and how those giant changes will manifest themselves both in ourselves and how we live with each other.
Steve’s understanding of the architecture of change is very illuminating.
You can find both segments here.
Well, they’re trying to do it again.
For reasons known only to those with great wealth and power, our “leaders” seem to think that we need to start a war with the country that has more nuclear weapons than anyone on the planet other than the U.S.
Stop for a minute. Does that sound smart? Sure doesn’t to me. Haven’t we had enough killing? Isn’t it obvious to these guys that wars don’t work? Look at Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Any winners there? How many hundreds of thousands of people killed?
It doesn’t make sense to Paul Craig Roberts either. In Washington Leads the World to War, he writes:
What must the world think watching the US presidential campaign? Over time US political campaigns have become more unreal and less related to voters’ concerns, but the current one is so unreal as to be absurd.
The offshoring of American jobs by global corporations and the deregulation of the US financial system have resulted in American economic failure. One might think that this would be an issue in a presidential campaign.
The neoconservative ideology of US world hegemony is driving the US and its vassals into conflict with Russia and China. The risks of nuclear war are higher than at any previous time in history. One might think that this also would be an issue in a presidential campaign.
Instead, the issues are Trump’s legal use of tax laws and his non-hostile attitude toward President Putin of Russia.
One might think that the issue would be Hillary’s extremely hostile attitude toward Putin (“the new Hitler”), which promises conflict with a major nuclear power. Read more . . .
This is serious. It’s gotten to the place where Russia has had evacuation drills for many millions of their citizens. They think this is a real possibility.
Martin Armstrong (who has extraordinary futures modeling technology and ends up being pretty right on these kinds of thing) thinks there’s more to it than just the neocons trying to acquire US hegemony in the area. He wrote earlier this week in Russia Warns Obama.
Russia WARNS Obama not to attack Syrian forces. It is clear that the Obama Administration is desperate to continue its nation building policy and is determined to overthrow the Syrian government with absolutely no alternative as they did in Iraq and screwed up the entire region. It appears the US military is on a fast track with NATO to start World War III ASAP. The polls are rigged and they fear that if Trump were to win, he would put an end to this type of activity. So it seems the Obama Administration is trying to create a direct confrontation with Russia and then should Trump win, Obama will declare the election was hacked by Russia and declare a state of Martial Law to deny even Hillary office. He would then step aside and hand it to Biden to run until, of course, everything is back to “normal” and another election can be held.
This is talk behind the curtain.
I don’t know about this kind of stuff. But I do know that in the political big leagues almost anything is possible and if they think the stakes are large enough they’ll do what they think they have to. It has become so bad that now careful analysts like Robert Steele is claiming that every single terrorist act in the US has been a false flag attack. He says:
“Most terrorists are false flag terrorists, or are created by our own security services. In the United States, every single terrorist incident we have had has been a false flag, or has been an informant pushed on by the FBI. In fact, we now have citizens taking out restraining orders against FBI informants that are trying to incite terrorism. We’ve become a lunatic asylum.”
What is going on here is fundamentally against the U.S. Constitution and following the Constitution is the way to end it. Constitutional scholar Bruce Fein makes that point by in this Huffington Post piece by reminding us of how horrible war is.
War is the greatest scourge of mankind. Unsentimental Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman remarked: “I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”
War not only kills and maims on an industrial scale, it also destroys liberty by creating an Executive Leviathan. James Madison presciently taught:
“War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honours and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honourable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.
Hence it has grown into an axiom that the executive is the department of power most distinguished by its propensity to war: hence it is the practice of all states, in proportion as they are free, to disarm this propensity of its influence.” Continue reading . . .
We Don’t Do Change Well
All of this is a titanic effort by the old order to maintain the underlying relationships and policies that have characterized the past and sustained those who are in power. At the same time, new voices (including those above) are attempting to facilitate the erosion of the status quo and promote new, more equitable and effective alternatives to the institutions and mindsets that have produced all of the major problems that the world now experiences.
These change makers play an extraordinarily important role in the evolution of the species – pushing societies and cultures forward, out of the existing box of convention. Even though we can look back in history and venerate those who, at great personal risk, promoted the need for change, we often forget what amazing courage and perseverance that those “heroes” exhibited.
Let me provide you with an example. All of us in the West don’t even think about the issue of the equity of women being able to vote – it’s obvious that they deserve to vote. But the brave women a century ago who did the hard work to establish that perspective – that we now take for granted – were treated the way we treat some of the prisoners that we now accuse as being “terrorists”.
Read this brief, moving review of the suffrage movement . . . and then think about the important role that whistleblowers and activists play in pushing us all into thinking about ourselves and the world in new (and better) ways.
“By the end of the night, they were barely alive. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead. She suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, and kicking the women. Thus unfolded the ‘Night of Terror’ on Nov. 15, 1917.”
~~ From powerful essay on prison treatment of suffragettes fighting for women’s right to vote
Continue reading . . .
Quantum Theory Reveals Puzzling Pattern in How People Respond to Some Surveys – (Phys Org – June 16, 2014)
Researchers used quantum theory – usually invoked to describe the actions of subatomic particles – to identify an unexpected and strange pattern in how people respond to survey questions. By conventional standards, the results are surprising: The scientists found the exact same pattern in 70 nationally representative surveys from Gallup and the Pew Research center taken from 2001 to 2011, as well as in two laboratory experiments. Most of the national surveys included more than 1,000 respondents in the United States. These new findings involved an issue that has long faced researchers using survey data or any self-report data: question-order effects. Scientists have known that the order in which some questions are asked on a survey can change how people respond. That’s why survey organizations normally change the order of questions between different respondents, hoping to cancel out this effect. “Researchers have thought of these question-order effects as some kind of unexplainable carry-over effects or noise,” Wang said. “But our results suggest that some of these effects may not be mere nuisance, but actually are something more essential to human behavior.” The pattern that quantum theory predicted – and that the researchers found – was that the number of people who switch from “yes-yes” to “no-no” when the question order is reversed must be offset by the number of people who switch in the opposite direction. The researchers called this phenomenon “quantum question equality.” They found it in every one of the surveys studied. “When you think about it from our normal social science perspective, the finding is very bizarre,” Wang said. “There’s no reason to expect that people would always change their responses in such a systematical way, from survey to survey to create this pattern.” But from a quantum perspective, the finding makes perfect sense, Wang said. (Editor’s note: This is a fascinating study that explores both the cases in which quantum theory accurately predicts people’s behavior in answering questionnaires – and when it does not.)
The Pressure Is On to Make Metallic Hydrogen – (Science News – August 10, 2016)
Metallic hydrogen in its solid form, scientists propose, could be a superconductor: a material that allows electrons to flow through it effortlessly, with no loss of energy. All known superconductors function only at extremely low temperatures, a major drawback. Theorists suspect that superconducting metallic hydrogen might work at room temperature. A room-temperature superconductor is one of the most eagerly sought goals in physics; it would offer enormous energy savings and vast improvements in the transmission and storage of energy. Metallic hydrogen’s significance extends beyond earthly pursuits. The material could also help scientists understand our own solar system. At high temperatures, compressed hydrogen becomes a metallic liquid — a form that is thought to lurk beneath the clouds of monstrous gas planets, like Jupiter and Saturn. Sorting out the properties of hydrogen at extreme heat and high pressure could resolve certain persistent puzzles about the gas giants. In 1935, when physicists Eugene Wigner and Hillard Bell Huntington of Princeton University first predicted that compressed solid hydrogen would be metallic, they thought the transition to a metal might occur at a pressure 250,000 times that of Earth’s atmosphere. That may sound like a lot, but scientists have since squeezed hydrogen to pressures more than 10 times as high — and still no solid metal. Researchers have reported brief glimpses of the liquid metal form of hydrogen in the lab — although questions linger about the true nature of the material. Several rival teams are striving to transform hydrogen, ordinarily a gas, into a metal. It’s a high-stakes, high-passion pursuit that sparks dreams of a coveted new material that could unlock enormous technological advances in electronics. “Everybody knows very well about the rewards you could get by doing this, so jealousy and envy [are] kind of high,” says Eugene Gregoryanz, a physicist at the University of Edinburgh who’s been hunting metallic hydrogen for more than a decade.
Engineering ‘Backup’ Mitochondrial Genes to Restore Power to Cells – (Kurzweil AI – September 16, 2016)
A new study by SENS Research Foundation, published in an open-access paper in the journal Nucleic Acids Research, explores the possibility of re-engineering mutated mitochondrial genes, which can otherwise lead to incurable disorders and contribute to aging. Mitochondria have their own DNA, allowing them to create proteins to supply nutrients and energy to cells. But sometimes, the DNA becomes mutated by “reactive oxygen species” generated by the mitochrondia themselves. This causes diseases in nervous, cardiovascular, and skeletal muscle tissues. More generally, “the mutations are also believed to contribute substantially to aging,” said Aubrey de Grey, PhD, a biomedical gerontologist and Chief Science Officer of SENS Research Foundation. In the new study, the researchers developed “backup” copies of the modified mitochondrial genes, based on a patient cell line, to express the necessary proteins to produce cellular energy. The new genes would be delivered to the cell nucleii, where genes are protected from the more violent cell processes. The researchers used a patient cell line with a single point mutation in the overlap region of the ATP8 and ATP6 genes of the human mitochondrial genome. Using synthesized DNA sequences, they were able to achieve stable expression, import, and function of the two mitochondria genes, correcting the loss of both mitochondrial proteins.
The Surgeon Who Wants to Perform a Head Transplant by 2017 – (BBC News – September 20, 2016)
A surgeon who wants to carry out the first ever head transplant says the first one could take place as early as next year. Professor Sergio Canavero, an Italian neurosurgeon, says he has lots of volunteers from the UK who want it done. The procedure would see the patient using a donor body and having their head fitted to it. However gruesome it sounds, Prof. Canevero is confident the technology is now in place to make it a reality. The surgeon claims the transplant would take 150 medical staff 36 hours to carry out the operation. He says the first step would be to freeze the head and body to stop brain cells from dying. The neck would then be cut and tubes connecting key arteries and veins fitted. Then comes the tricky part – cutting the spinal cord. It’ll be done with a special knife made from diamonds because of their strength. The head is then moved onto the donor body and the spinal chords fused together with a special type of glue. Muscles, veins and organs are then reattached and the skin is stitched together. Most medical experts around the world say his theories are ‘science fiction’ and a head transplant is simply not possible. But Professor Canavero says he’s confident he can successfully carry out the procedure. “When everything will be set I expect a 90% chance of success. “90% means that the patient reawakens without damage and starts walking within one month or moving during physiotherapy. See also: Sergio Canavero shows evidence of head transplant in dogs, but skepticism remains.
DARPA Wants to Block National Security Threats Posed by Gene Editing – (Vocativ – September 13, 2016)
The United States Department of Defense is increasingly concerned about the potential threat of gene editing and modifying entire populations. A new government project aims build technology and rules that would help scientists avoid major biological catastrophes. Last February, U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper released the latest Worldwide Threat Assessment, which added genome editing to the Intelligence Community’s list of weapons of mass destruction. “Research in genome editing conducted by countries with different regulatory or ethical standards than those of Western countries probably increases the risk of the creation of potentially harmful biological agents or products,” the report reads. “Given the broad distribution, low cost, and accelerated pace of development of this dual-use technology, its deliberate or unintentional misuse might lead to far-reaching economic and national security implications.” DARPA has announced a new initiative, the Safe Genes program, requesting proposals from researchers on developing biosafety measures that can be applied to gene-editing technologies. DARPA biotech program manager Renee Wegrzyn said, “DARPA wants to develop controls for gene editing and derivative technologies to support responsible research and defend against irresponsible actors who might intentionally or accidentally release modified organisms.” If the Pentagon does fulfill their Safe Genes goals, the true challenge will be ensuring that all the rogue scientists who are playing a large part of developing this burgeoning field will actually adhere to the new safety standards. (Editor’s note: Since DARPA must be completely aware that this initiative will have no impact on non-US researchers, we wonder what the underlying intent of the Safe Genes program may be.)
A Possible Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease Is Demonstrated in a Clinical Trial – (Forbes – September 1, 2016)
A research paper reports that the antibody aducanumab significantly reduced the buildup of protein deposits in the brain that are thought to be a primary cause of the neural degeneration that results in Alzheimer’s disease. Protein deposits called beta amyloids accumulate in the brain and may lead to Alzheimer’s disease along the following lines. Bacterial pathogens enter the brain from the bloodstream with increasing frequency as the blood-brain barrier weakens with age. The brain combats these pathogens by enclosing them in cages made of proteins called beta amyloids. The caged pathogen dies but the beta amyloid deposit remains. As time goes by, defective tau proteins gather around the beta amyloid deposits and kill surrounding nerve cells. This can lead to inflammation which kills more nerve cells. The loss of these nerve cells is the root cause of Alzheimer’s disease. The research team attacked protein deposits in the brain with a human monoclonal antibody (an antibody made up of identical clones of single parent cell) called aducanumab that selectively targets beta amyloid. The study was designed to test whether aducanumab reduces beta amyloid deposits in humans and whether increasing doses of the antibody are both safe and tolerable. The study wasn’t designed to test whether aducanumab mitigated Alzheimer’s symptoms as measured by clinical tests. Nevertheless, clinical tests were carried out with mixed results. The evidence of a reduction of Alzheimer’s symptoms on some clinical tests motivates further testing that has the statistical power to examine outcomes on both brain imaging and clinical measures. The results of the study are promising and more than warrant further testing on a larger scale. If future clinical trials produce the same results, we may have found a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
Paralyzed Man Regains Use of Arms and Hands after Experimental Stem Cell Therapy – (Kurzweil AI – September 12, 2016)
Doctors at the USC Neurorestoration Center and Keck Medicine of USC injected an experimental treatment made from stem cells and other cells into the damaged cervical spine of a recently paralyzed 21-year-old man as part of a multi-center clinical trial. The stem cell procedure is part of a clinical trial that is evaluating the safety and efficacy of escalating doses of AST-OPC1 cells. AST-OPC1 cells are made from embryonic stem cells by carefully converting them into oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs), which are cells found in the brain and spinal cord that support the healthy functioning of nerve cells. Two weeks after surgery, Kristopher (Kris) Boesen began to show signs of improvement. Three months later, he’s able to feed himself, use his cell phone, write his name, operate a motorized wheelchair, and hug his friends and family. “Typically, spinal cord injury patients undergo surgery that stabilizes the spine but generally does very little to restore motor or sensory function,” explains Charles Liu, MD, PhD, director of the USC Neurorestoration Center. “With this study, we are testing a procedure that may improve neurological function, which could mean the difference between being permanently paralyzed and being able to use one’s arms and hands. As of 90 days post-treatment, Kris has gained significant improvement in his motor function, up to two spinal cord levels,” said Liu. “In Kris’ case, two spinal cord levels means the difference between using your hands to brush your teeth, operate a computer, or do other things you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, so having this level of functional independence cannot be overstated.”
One Scientist’s Crazy Bet to Save the Bees: Join Monsanto – (Wired – August 28, 2016)
Under a microscope, a varroa mite is a monster: armored and hairy, with eight legs and one piercing, sucking mouthpart, primordial in its horror. Since the parasite arrived in the United States from Asia in 1987, the practice of tending bees has grown immeasurably harder. Beekeepers must use harsh chemicals in their hives to kill the mites or risk losing most of their bees within two to three years. About a third of the nation’s honeybees have died each winter over the past decade, and Jerry Hayes, an apiary scientist, believes the varroa mite is a major factor in this catastrophe. Hayes’ audience at a conference where he was a speaker, however, believed something else. SXSW Eco is a conference for environmentalists, and these attendees were not inclined to blame the honeybee’s problems on an obscure arthropod. They’d rather blame Hayes. That’s because Hayes works for Monsanto. This is the story of one man, a master beekeeper, who is working as fast as he can to save bees from colony collapse – at one of the few places that can afford the research costs. (Editor’s note: This is a lengthy article – no sound bites here, but rather the detailed recounting of a very unlikely relationship between one beekeeper and a company with one of the worst reputations on the planet. We recommend reading it.)
Massive Cover-up Exposed: 285 Papers From 1960s-’80s Reveal Robust Global Cooling Scientific ‘Consensus’ – (Out of the Bottomless Pit – September 17, 2016)
Beginning in 2003, software engineer William Connolley quietly removed the highly inconvenient references to the global cooling scare of the 1970s from Wikipedia, the world’s most influential and accessed informational source. Too many skeptics were (correctly) pointing out that the scientific “consensus” during the 1960s and 1970s was that the Earth had been cooling for decades, and that nascent theorizing regarding the potential for a CO2-induced global warming were still questionable and uncertain. Not only did Connolley, a co-founder (along with Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt) of the realclimate.com blog, successfully remove (or rewrite) the history of the 1970s global cooling scare from the Wikipedia record, he also erased (or rewrote) references to the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age so as to help create the impression that the paleoclimate is shaped like Mann’s hockey stick graph, with unprecedented and dangerous 20th/21st century warmth. A 2009 investigative report from UK’s Telegraph detailed the extent of dictatorial-like powers Connolley possessed at Wikipedia, allowing him to remove inconvenient scientific information that didn’t conform to his point of view. “All told, Connolley created or rewrote 5,428 unique Wikipedia articles. His control over Wikipedia was greater still, however, through the role he obtained at Wikipedia as a website administrator, which allowed him to act with virtual impunity. When Connolley didn’t like the subject of a certain article, he removed it — more than 500 articles of various descriptions disappeared at his hand. When he disapproved of the arguments that others were making, he often had them barred. Over 2,000 Wikipedia contributors who ran afoul of him found themselves blocked from making further contributions.
New Two-Lensed Camera Shows What It’s Like to Ride on the Back of Whale – (Gizmodo – September 23, 2016)
Researchers from Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station have developed a two-lensed camera that sticks to the backs of filter-feeding whales with suction cups. The new device has been used to capture unprecedented footage of whales in action, and it’s offering new insights into the feeding and swimming behaviors of these aquatic beasts. On the surface of it, filter-feeding sounds like a painstakingly straightforward process: whale opens mouth, whale gobbles-up copious amounts of krill, whale closes mouth. Those may be the broad strokes, but it’s actually more complicated. Because we rarely have an opportunity to observe whales in their undersea habitat, researchers have struggled to understand the finer details of the process, such as the speeds at which whales approach their tiny prey, how quickly they can change direction, and how they adjust in the presence of fish. The new whale research device, which sticks to the back of the whales with suction cups, contains a first-generation side-to-side-facing dual camera, and it tracks the movements of a tagged whale in three-dimensions. Working in South Africa, Patagonia, and off both coasts of the United States, the researchers affixed the device to several species of rorquals, including humpback whales, blue whales, and minke whales. Like pre-existing tracking devices, it’s also equipped with an accelerometer, magnetometer, and pressure and sound recorders. Embedded video clip shows the process of attaching the camera to a whale.
To Reduce Fracking-Related Earthquakes, Oklahoma Might Look to the Netherlands – (AlterNet – September 18, 2016)
Research over the past several decades has increasinglyclinked oil and natural gas extraction, major industries in Oklahoma, with an uptick in seismic activity. In reaction to the earthquake, Oklahoma officials shuttered nearby oil and gas disposal wells, which shift the briny byproducts of extraction deep below the Earth’s surface. As Oklahoma regulators consider next steps, recent policy decisions by the Netherlands, another major natural gas producer facing similar seismic challenges, may prove instructive. The Netherlands, which is only about twice the size of New Jersey, also holds more than half of all natural gas reserves within the European Union. As public outcry over earthquakes in the Netherlands mounted, Dutch regulators began taking interim steps to study and stem the earthquakes. Therefore, in June, the Minister of Economic Affairs, issued proposed new policies governing natural gas extraction, including a production ceiling of 24 billion cubic meters per year as well as other safety measures. The new regulations will likely reduce earthquakes, but also will mean a significant revenue drop for the company that operates the natural gas field. The government expects the lower production will cost the country about 1.6 billion Euros annually.
Inside Google’s Internet Justice League and Its AI-Powered War on Trolls – (Wired – September 19, 2016)
Mass harassment online has proved so effective that it’s emerging as a weapon of repressive governments. In late 2014, Finnish journalist Jessikka Aro reported on Russia’s troll farms, where employees regurgitate messages that promote the government’s interests and inundate opponents with vitriol on every possible outlet, including Twitter and Facebook. All this abuse has evolved into a form of censorship, driving people offline, silencing their voices. Now a small subsidiary of Google named Jigsaw is about to release an entirely new type of response: a set of tools called Conversation AI. The software is designed to use machine learning to automatically spot the language of abuse and harassment—with, Jigsaw engineers say, an accuracy far better than any keyword filter and far faster than any team of human moderators. “I want to use the best technology we have at our disposal to begin to take on trolling and other nefarious tactics that give hostile voices disproportionate weight,” says Jigsaw founder and president Jared Cohen. The New York–based think tank and tech incubator aims to build products that use Google’s massive infrastructure and engineering muscle not to advance the best possibilities of the Internet but to fix the worst of it: surveillance, extremist indoctrination, censorship. Jigsaw is about to unleash Conversation AI on the murky challenge of harassment, where the only way to protect some of the web’s most repressed voices may be to selectively shut up others. If it can find a path through that free-speech paradox, Jigsaw will have pulled off an unlikely coup: applying artificial intelligence to solve the very human problem of making people be nicer on the Internet.
Google Glass Is Dead, Long Live Snapchat Spectacles – (Gizmodo – September 24, 2016)
It seems like it was ages ago that Google Glass was the future that nobody wanted. The wearable tech had at least one bad design flaw—it seemed to get its early adopters punched in the face because people didn’t like the camera being pointed at them. Now, Snapchat thinks people are finally ready for glasses-mounted personal recording devices. Snapchat is betting that it wasn’t so much the fear of being assaulted that killed Google Glass; it’s just that people didn’t want to pay $1500 for the privilege. The millennial-approved social network is jumping into the hardware game with its $130 “Spectacles.” Rather than trying to do everything a smartphone can, the frames will simply focus on looking “stylish” and recording 10-second bursts of circular video. The glasses feature a fish-eye lens that captures videos at an 115-degree angle, which is closer to the eyes’ natural field of view. The user taps a button on the hinge, a ring of lights indicate to strangers that they are being filmed and a short clip is recorded. The footage is then automatically pushed to Snapchat memories.
Bring Your Own Shade to the Beach with Sport-Brella – (Gizmodo – May 3, 2016)
Sport-Brella is a kind of hybrid between a tent and a beach umbrella. You plant it into the sand at an angle, and clamp it down with a bunch of tent stakes so it doesn’t blow away. The whole thing takes about five minutes to set up (once you know what you’re doing), and the resulting space is big enough for a couple of chairs and a cooler (there’s an XL version as well, but it only gives you an extra foot of room). However, you don’t necessarily need a beach to find this useful. It’s also a good wind-break for those times when you don’t want a whole tent, but you’d like to be out of the wind. Price, including anchors, under $70.
Stacked Shipping Containers Create Floating Student Housing in Copenhagen Harbor – (Dezeen – September 22, 2016)
The project named Urban Rigger aims to provide low-cost housing for students in the center of the Copenhagen, docked in the harbor. Bjarke Ingels’ firm (BIG) has nine shipping containers stacked and arranged on a floating base, to create 15 studio residences over two levels. The blocks are angled with their ends overlapping to frame a shared garden in the center of the mobile platform – also intended to protect the housing from the threat of rising sea levels. The containers are connected by glazed greenhouse-like spaces. Windows and doors are punched in the ends and flanks of the corrugated metal blocks, which are painted bright aquamarine. The flat roofs of the three containers forming the upper floor each have a different function. One provides a terrace, another hosts solar panels and the final roof is covered in grass. Article includes slide show; it does not discuss how fresh water and sewage are handled. But if student housing doesn’t appeal to you, see this article about an elegant floating house in Seattle.
‘Star in a Jar’ Could Lead to Limitless Fusion Energy – (Kurzweil – AI – August 30, 2016)
Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) are building a “star in a jar” — a miniature version of the how our Sun creates energy through fusion. It could provide humankind with near limitless energy, ending dependence on fossil fuels for generating electricity — without contributing greenhouse gases that warm the Earth, and with no long-term radioactive waste. But that requires a “jar” that can contain superhot plasma — and is low-cost enough to be built around the world. A model for such a “jar,” or fusion device, already exists in experimental form: the tokamak, or fusion reactor. Invented in the 1950s by Soviet physicists, it’s a device that uses a powerful magnetic field to confine plasma (superhot charged gas) in the shape of a torus. There are many experimental tokamaks currently in operation, but they all face physics challenges. So researchers at PPPL and in and Culham, England are looking at ways of solving these challenges for the next generation of fusion devices, based on compact spherical tokamaks. They suggest that these could provide the design for possible next steps in fusion energy: a Fusion Nuclear Science Facility (FNSF) that would develop reactor components and also produce electricity as a pilot plant for a commercial fusion power station.
BMW Built a Power Plant from Old Electric-Car Batteries – (Technology Review – September 26, 2016)
With the electric-car revolution perhaps just a few years off, automakers face a looming question: what do you do with all the spent batteries? One answer: turn a huge pile of them into a grid-scale power plant. Barring a much-needed breakthrough in battery technology, it looks as if we’re going to be stuck with lithium-ion chemistry for a while yet. But like any batteries, they wear out. The rate at which they currently decline puts their lifetime for powering electric vehicles in the neighborhood of eight to 10 years. It’s not that they’re useless after that, but their capacity declines to a point where a car’s range would be depleted. By strapping together batteries from 100 cars, BMW has just completed a grid-scale storage facility in Hamburg, Germany. Capable of storing 2.8 megawatt-hours of energy and delivering up to two megawatts of power at the flip of a switch, the plant is perfect for providing an extra dose of power to the grid during times of peak demand, its operators say. If electric cars really are about to go mainstream, the rise of used-battery power plants may not be far behind.
Forget VR. The Future of Roller Coasters Is Maglev – (Wired – September 25, 2016)
Some people think the future of the amusement is all about virtual reality. I think it’s about a mix of electromagnetic acceleration, free falls, and untethered jumps into water. Traditional roller coasters use a combination of potential and kinetic energy to sling riders over a track system to keep the momentum going. The technology has evolved, with metal wheels replacing wood, then losing their place to polyurethane, always for a faster, smoother ride. But what if there was no friction at all? What if there were no rails or wheels? What if electro magnets propelled the cars? This is the idea behind the Sfrear Mountain Coaster. The concept would mark an entirely new rider experience, combining a cushy ride, incredible speed, free falls, underground tunnels, water diving, and heart-racing turns and loops. A 6-foot-wide, transparent sphere replaces the traditional open-top car. All three passengers, strapped in with conventional padded restraints, would get a clear view of their fellow riders’ gawking faces, along with the world spinning by. The majority of the track would be tubular with an open top, to keep the sphere on the right path. Like a maglev train, the sphere would ride just above the track, with powerful magnets levitating and propelling it. Gyroscopic technology would let the sphere roll along the tracks, without exposing riders to dangerous g-forces. To start the ride, the magnets would propel the sphere like a fighter jet launching from an aircraft carrier, hitting a three-tiered corkscrew after a short straightaway. From the top, the sphere would ride to the top of a tower, then free fall through a sort of funnel. In an emergency, the magnets would stop the sphere and hold it in place. (Editor’s note: As far as we can tell, the Sfrear Mountain Coaster is still at a concept stage, but it sounds like a mind-bending ride and it’s probably on the way.) Still on the subject of roller coasters, check out this article reporting on some scientific research recently published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association: This Roller Coaster Helps People Pass Kidney Stones (Yes, Really).
Should Highway Carpool Lanes Be Dedicated to Driverless Cars Instead? – (Fast Company – September 26, 2016)
Today many highways around the country have dedicated carpool fast lanes. Tomorrow, these lanes might be dedicated to driverless cars. That’s at least if venture capitalists at the Seattle-based Madrone Venture Group get their way. A group of four executives there have proposed a 15-year plan to convert the I-5 from Seattle to Vancouver into a corridor for autonomous cars, beginning right now, and ending with an eventual ban on human-steered cars. The proposal begins with allowing autonomous cars to use the carpooling HOV lane. Then, as the driverless cars become more common, the HOV lanes would be turned entirely over to autonomous cars. Finally, in the far future, they believe non-autonomous vehicles would be excluded from the entire highway except for non-peak hours. autonomous vehicles deal a lot better with monotonous highways than they do with the spontaneous excitement of a city street. Our cars virtually drive themselves down freeways already. Allowing driverless vehicles in the carpool lane will also encourage uptake of the technology by early adopters, which is essential to help the technology eventually become mainstream. But wouldn’t we be better off improving public transit, like high-speed rail? After all, moving lots of people long distances is what rail is great at. Nope, says the report. “Compared to the cost of improved and high speed rail, estimated by others at upwards of $30 billion, the cost of this plan would be orders of magnitude less and consumers would begin to benefit decades earlier.” No cost is given for the carbon cost of cars versus trains mentioned here, nor the fact that public transit is often designed for the very people who can’t afford their own cars (let alone driverless ones).
Tax Reduces Junk Food Consumption in Mexico, Says Study – (AlterNet – September 22, 2016)
Mexico has one of the highest rates of childhood and adult overweight and obesity in the world. More than 33% of children and around 70% of adults are overweight and obese in Mexico. Globally, Mexico is the fourth largest per capita consumer of energy dense foods and drinks. Around 9.1% of people in the country had type-2 diabetes in 2012. In an effort to deal with increasing rates of obesity and diabetes, the Mexican government created an eight percent tax on high-calorie foods. According to the law, nonessential foods include chips, salty snacks, and frozen desserts. The government also implemented a 10 percent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. “Approximately 14% of Mexican kilocalorie consumption comes from these taxed foods,” says Dr. Barry Popkin, a professor at the University of North Carolina and one of the co-authors of the study. According to the study, the nonessential food tax managed to decrease purchases of junk food in low-income and medium-income households. The low-income households bought on average 10.2% less taxed foods. The medium-income households bought on average 5.8% less taxed foods. The purchases of junk food in high-income households did not change, according to the study. The results show that there was an average reduction of 5.1% on purchases of taxed food items in 2014, which was equivalent to 25 grams per person per month. The study did not mention if people bought healthier foods, decreased their calorie intake, or decided to purchase less expensive street food in Mexico.
In Rwanda, Craft Beer Opens the Door to Female Empowerment – (AlterNet – September 27, 2016)
Rwandan entrepreneur Josephine Uwineza is accustomed to challenging the status quo in her country’s food scene. In 2000, she brought Asian cuisine to the capital city of Kigali with the country’s first Chinese restaurant. Now she has her sights set on disrupting the pub culture in the Central African nation. “There’s no craft brewery owned by a woman in Rwanda—not only never owned by a woman, but there’s no craft breweries in Rwanda right now,” Uwineza said. Uwineza hopes to fill the void by establishing a brewpub in Kigali, where customers can socialize over a tasting or buy a six-pack to enjoy at home. This week, Uwineza and Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company, based in Canada, announced their partnership with a Kickstarter campaign, seeking roughly $72,000 to purchase a bottling line. Microbreweries have started cropping up across Africa, gaining popularity in Kenya, Botswana, and South Africa, but they haven’t made their way to Rwanda. “There are a few [beer] selections that are the exact same in every single bar, in every single store,” said Steve Beauchesne, CEO and cofounder of Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company. “There’s this great opportunity for locally owned, locally made craft beer.”
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
DARPA’s Plan for Total Surveillance of Low-flying Drones over Cities – (Kurzweil AI – September 16, 2016)
DARPA’s recently announced Aerial Dragnet program is seeking innovative technologies to “provide persistent, wide-area surveillance of all unmanned aerial systems (UAS), such as quadcopters, operating below 1,000 feet in a large city. UAS devices can be adapted for terrorist or military purposes, so U.S. forces will “increasingly be challenged by the need to quickly detect and identify such craft — especially in urban areas, where sight lines are limited and many objects may be moving at similar speeds,” DARPA said. While Aerial Dragnet’s focus is on protecting military troops operating in urban settings overseas, the system could ultimately find civilian application to help protect U.S. metropolitan areas from UAS-enabled terrorist threats, DARPA said. DARPA envisions a network of surveillance nodes, each providing coverage of a neighborhood-sized urban area, perhaps mounted on tethered or long-endurance UAS. Sensors could look over and between buildings, the surveillance nodes would maintain UAS tracks, even when the craft disappear from sight around corners or behind objects. The Aerial Dragnet program seeks teams with expertise in sensors, signal processing, and — interestingly — “networked autonomy.”
Cast-Out Police Officers Are Often Hired in Other Cities – (New York Times – September 10, 2016)
As a police officer in a small Oregon town in 2004, Sean Sullivan was caught kissing a 10-year-old girl on the mouth. Mr. Sullivan’s sentence barred him from taking another job as a police officer. But three months later, he was hired as the police chief in Cedar Vale, Kan., where he was again investigated for a suspected sexual relationship with a girl and eventually convicted on charges that included burglary and criminal conspiracy. Some experts say thousands of law enforcement officers may have drifted from police department to police department even after having been fired, forced to resign or convicted of a crime. Yet there is no comprehensive, national system for weeding out problem officers. A lack of coordination among law enforcement agencies, opposition from police executives and unions, and an absence of federal guidance have meant that in many cases police departments do not know the background of prospective officers if they fail to disclose a troubled work history. Among the officers who have found jobs even after exhibiting signs that they might be ill suited for police work is Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014. Before he was hired in Cleveland, Officer Loehmann had resigned from a suburban police force not long after a supervisor recommended that he be fired for, among other things, an inability to follow instructions. But Cleveland officials never checked his personnel file. Officer Loehmann, who was not indicted, remains on the Cleveland force.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Latest Estimate Pegs Cost of Wars at Nearly $5 Trillion – (Intercept – September 14, 2016)
The total U.S. budgetary cost of war since 2001 is $4.79 trillion, according to a report released from Brown University’s Watson Institute. That’s the highest estimate yet. The amount of $4.79 trillion adds up like this: The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and other overseas operations already cost $1.7 trillion between 2001 and August 2016 with $103 billion more requested for 2017; Homeland Security terrorism prevention costs from 2001 to 2016 were $548 billion; The estimated DOD base budget was $733 billion and veterans spending was $213 billion; Interest incurred on borrowing for wars was $453 billion; Estimated future costs for veterans’ medical needs until the year 2053 is $1 trillion; And the amounts the DOD, State Department, and Homeland Security have requested for 2017 ($103 billion). There are even more costs of war that Crawford does not include. For instance, “I have not included here state and local government expenses related to medical care of veterans and homeland security. Nor do I calculate the macro economic costs of war for the U.S. economy.” She also notes that she does not add the cost of war for other countries, nor try to put a dollar figures on the cost in human lives.
The Computers Are Listening – (Intercept – May 5, 2016)
Even as they increasingly use apps that understand what they say, most people don’t realize that the words they speak are not so private anymore, either. Top-secret documents from the archive of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency can now automatically recognize the content within phone calls by creating rough transcripts and phonetic representations that can be easily searched and stored. The documents show NSA analysts celebrating the development of what they called “Google for Voice” nearly a decade ago. Though perfect transcription of natural conversation apparently remains the Intelligence Community’s “holy grail,” the Snowden documents describe extensive use of keyword searching as well as computer programs designed to analyze and “extract” the content of voice conversations, and even use sophisticated algorithms to flag conversations of interest. Spying on international telephone calls has always been a staple of NSA surveillance, but the requirement that an actual person do the listening meant it was effectively limited to a tiny percentage of the total traffic. By leveraging advances in automated speech recognition, the NSA has entered the era of bulk listening. And this has happened with no apparent public oversight, hearings or legislative action. Congress hasn’t shown signs of even knowing that it’s going on. The USA Freedom Act — the surveillance reform bill that Congress is currently debating — doesn’t address the topic at all.
Powell Discusses Secret Israeli Nukes in Leaked 2015 Email – (Associated Press – September 16, 2016)
In a private email exchange last year leaked this week by hackers, former Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed Israel’s nuclear weapons capability with a friend, saying the country has 200 warheads. Though Israel is widely believed to have developed nukes decades ago, it has never declared itself to be a nuclear state. The existence of its weapons program is considered classified information by both the Israeli and U.S. governments. Powell discusses secret Israeli nukes in leaked 2015 email. In the March 2015 exchange from his personal Gmail account, Powell was discussing a speech that day to a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The conservative Israeli leader staunchly opposed the deal then proposed by President Barack Obama to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program. “Iranians can’t use one if they finally make one,” Powell wrote to Democratic donor Jeffrey Leeds, a hedge-fund founder who serves on the board of the Colin L. Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York. “The boys in Tehran know Israel has 200, all targeted on Tehran, and we have thousands.” Powell is not the first top-level U.S. government official to publicly discuss Israel’s nukes. Former President Jimmy Carter has said in interviews and speeches that Israel has between 150 and 300 warheads. But the issue is not supposed to be discussed openly by those who work for the U.S. government and hold active security clearances. Even members of Congress are routinely admonished not to even mention the existence of an Israeli nuclear arsenal, said Avner Cohen, a professor at the James Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
Record New U.S. Military Aid Deal for Israel to Be Signed – (Reuters – September 13, 2016)
The United States and Israel have reached final agreement on a record new package of at least $38 billion in U.S. military aid. The deal will represent the biggest pledge of U.S. military assistance made to any country but also involves major concessions granted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to officials on both sides. Those include Israel’s agreement not to seek additional funds from Congress beyond what will be guaranteed annually in the new package, and also to phase out a special arrangement that has allowed Israel to spend part of its U.S. aid on its own defense industry instead of on American-made weapons, the officials said. Nearly 10 months of drawn-out aid negotiations have underscored continuing friction between U.S. President Barack Obama and Netanyahu over last year’s U.S.-led nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s arch-foe. The United States and Israel have also been at odds over the Palestinians. But the right-wing Israeli leader decided it would be best to forge a new arrangement with Obama. A deal now allows him to avoid uncertainties surrounding the next president … and to give Israel’s defense establishment the ability to plan ahead. The new package for the first time will incorporate money for Israeli missile defense, which until now has been funded ad hoc by Congress. U.S. lawmakers have in recent years given Israel up to $600 million in annual discretionary funds for this purpose. Note: If you divide this package of $38 billion by Israel’s population of 8.5 million, it turns out that US taxes are providing the equivalent of nearly $5,000 per citizen of Israel over the next 10 years.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Facial Recognition Software Lets You Find a Camgirl Who Looks Just Like Your Crush – (Gizmodo – September 23, 2016)
Megacams.me, a site that touts itself as a “live sex search engine” has just introduced its latest feature: a search function that lets you upload pictures of your crush to find camgirls that look just like her. Creepy right? The site uses facial recognition software to make the match. “This way,” the porn site explains, “it feels like you are having live sex with the person in your picture.” Except instead, you’d be having cybersex with someone who might sorta look like the person in your picture. TechCrunch believes that it’s using Microsoft’s Cognitive Services. Microsoft’s face API offers the first 30,000 lookups for free each month and then charges $1.50 for every 1,000 lookups. You’ve likely used this API before, as Microsoft launched a bunch of viral sites to show off the software: one guesses your age, another finds your celebrity doppelgänger, one chooses your dog doppelgänger. This technology is not very dependable. TechCrunch tested out the accuracy of Megacams.me’s doppelgänger and found that the best match only had a 47% likeness. That said, similar technology is creeping into a number of services that hope to use biometric scanning to enhance their offerings. Facebook has been using facial recognition for years to auto-tag your photos. And Uber also rolled out its Real-Time ID Check program nationwide, which requires drivers to upload a selfie before they start working to confirm that the person registered with the app is the same as the person driving your Uber. The company’s program proudly uses Microsoft’s Cognitive Services’ face API “to protect both riders and drivers.” Does facial recognition make porn more fun? For some people, perhaps. Does it make riding in an Uber safer? Unclear.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Mars Is Pretty Clean. Her Job at NASA Is to Keep It That Way. – (New York Times – October 5, 2015)
At the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Catharine A. Conley has a lofty job title: planetary protection officer. But with no extraterrestrial invasions on the horizon, Dr. Conley’s job is not so much protecting Earth from aliens as protecting other planets from Earth. Mars, in particular. “If we’re going to look for life on Mars, it would be really kind of lame to bring Earth life and find that instead,” Dr. Conley said. Thousands, millions, sometimes many times more, bacteria travel across the solar system on spacecraft. Earth has been invading Mars since November 1971, when the Soviet Mars 2 lander crashed. Certainly life exists on Mars today — the microbes that have hitchhiked from Earth. Even in the harsh environs of Mars — cold, dry, bombarded by ultraviolet light — it takes many years for all of them to be killed off. The concern is that some of them might not only survive but thrive. Because of the residual microbes, NASA’s Opportunity and Curiosity rovers are prohibited from visiting what are known as “special regions” — places that Earth bacteria might happily call home. Areas treated as special regions include the periodic dark streaks known as recurrent slope lineae — R.S.L.s for short — spotted on the sides of craters, canyons and mountains. Scientists last week said they were generated by the percolating of liquid water, one of the essentials for life. The caution brings up a Catch-22. NASA at present cannot explore the places with the greatest potential for life — one that could come into play for Curiosity, which is slowly climbing a mountain in Gale Crater.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
What’s Better Than Legos? Drones Made of Legos – (Wired – September 24, 2016)
The Flybrix team didn’t set out to build an adorable DIY mini-drone out of Lego bricks. But as any road-tripper can tell you, sometimes the journey turns out to be more fun than the destination. Amir Hirsch has a masters from MIT. Robb Walters has a PhD from Cal Tech. And Holly Kasun has a marketing background that spans from Nike to Nokia. Together, they set out to make small drones smarter, not STEM toys. “What we were doing originally is going after autonomous flight for microdrones, using computer vision and some other technical milestones,” says Kasun. “While we were developing our product, we used Lego bricks to rapidly prototype our early drone designs.” The team soon realized that what started as R&D on a budget was also, conveniently enough, an easy and engaging way to learn about how drones work. They’re still working on autonomous microdrone flight, but in the meantime are packaging up all the elements needed to build your own home drones. Flybrix come as either a $150 basic kit and $190 deluxe kit and come with enough Lego bricks and introductory electronics to let you build fully functional quadcopter, octocopter, or hexacopter frames. (The deluxe kit includes an RC controller, but you can still control the basic set’s flights with an associated app.) Each kit comes with sets of instructions that are basic enough for complete novices; Kasun says it should only take about 15 minutes from the time you open the box to having your first quadcopter in the air. Each kit includes a magnetometer, barometer, accelerometer, and the ability to add GPS and Wi-Fi if you’re so inclined. The software is open source, letting people customize not just drone hardware but performance as well.
Ambient Water Launches Newest Atmospheric Water Generator, AW800 – (Clean Technology Business Review – September 7, 2016)
The AW800, the newest model of Ambient Water’s commercial atmospheric water generator lineup, was built to maximize water generation while minimizing electrical power usage for optimal efficiency. The AW800 is a self-contained water generation and dispensing unit that is housed within a 20-foot ISO shipping container, allowing for easy transit and a rugged design to endure the environmental elements of any region. Utilizing standard electricity, the AW800 requires 55kW — approximately 24kW for steady state operation — at a variety of voltages, which can vary based on installation location. Ambient Water’s patented atmospheric water generation technology literally makes water out of thin air, transforming humidity into an abundant source of clean water near the point of use. When located in regions with sufficient temperature and humidity — the technology can produce water with humidity levels as low as 30% — the technology will produce quality drinking water that is uniquely filtered to ensure it is 99.9% free of all impurities. The technology is also equipped to handle local dispensing of the water, as well as bulk delivery. The AW800 is capable of generating up to 800 gallons of water per day for various uses including human consumption and agriculture.
This Lamp Records Hours of Sunlight and Then “Plays” It Back Indoors – (Fast Company – September 27, 2016)
Sun Memories lamp created by the Italian agency Olive Creative Lab, is a lot like any premium LED lamp: capable of changing its color temperature from warm to cool. What makes Sun Memories different is the way it allows you to pick those colors. You carry what the designers describe as a “wearable” device with you, though it looks more like a puck, and you’ll probably just want to set on the ground. Then, for up to six hours, it will record everything—the “color, intensity, and fickleness from the moments of shadow to the vibrancy of a sunny day”—for you to bring home and reproduce inside. It appears you can even save several of these days as a lighting playlist. Admittedly, it’s hard to imagine this working perfectly. Even if the lamp could reproduce the general ambience of outdoors (a stretch for any type of artificial lighting, to say the least), it might not scale to our expectations of interior light. When the sun falls behind the clouds for a moment outside, or becomes suddenly bright, we’re used to these sensation. Inside, it might mean we’d need to avert our eyes from the overly bright lamp, or put that New Yorker article down because it’s suddenly dark and we find ourselves squinting. But even so, Olive Creative Lab has built an enticing user experience here. We all have memories we want to save forever—and many of them happen to be lit quite splendidly.
CEOs Can Now Be Prosecuted at the Hague, Like War Criminals – (Business Grapevine – September 19, 2016)
Chief Executives whose companies are suspected of violating human rights laws, or being complicit in atrocities, will now be trialled at in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague – just like war criminals. The Hague court has announced its plans to widen their preview in relation to corporate crimes – such as the practice of “land grabbing”, by which companies take over large portions of natural lands in order to exploit the natural resources. Gillian Caldwell, Executive Director at Global Witness, a firm dedicated to exposing the economic networks behind conflict, corruption and environmental abuse, commented on the ruling to TelesurTV.net: “Chasing communities off their land and trashing the environment has become an accepted way of doing business in many resource-rich yet cash-poor countries. “Company bosses and politicians complicit in violently seizing land, razing tropical forests or poisoning water sources could soon find themselves standing trial in The Hague alongside war criminals and dictators. The ICC’s interest could help improve the lives of millions of people and protect critical ecosystems.” However, a number of powerful countries and states are not currently under the jurisdiction of the ICC – such as China, India, Russia, Cuba, the USA, Israel and Sudan. (Editor’s note: It is not clear from this article how exempt countries relate to international companies. For example, if the CEO of an American-based company violates human rights law in a country under the ICC jurisdiction, which jurisdiction has priority? There is also no indication of who would be bringing the charges. If any reader has more information on this, please send it to us.)
The Case for Algorithmic Equity – (Honkin News – September 20, 2016)
AI algorithms are skewed by the biases of both their creators and, depending on the application, their users. Social activist Cathy O’Neil addresses the broad consequences to society in her book, Weapons of Math Destruction. O’Neil notes that WMDs [Weapons of Math Destruction] punish the poor especially, since ‘they are engineered to evaluate large numbers of people. They specialize in bulk. They are cheap. That’s part of their appeal.’ Whereas the poor engage more with faceless educators and employers, ‘the wealthy, by contrast, often benefit from personal input. A white-shoe law firm or an exclusive prep school will lean far more on recommendations and face-to-face interviews than a fast-food chain or a cash-strapped urban school district. The privileged… are processed more by people, the masses by machines. So, algorithms add to the disparity between how the wealthy and the poor experience life. What does O’Neil suggest we do about this? First, she proposes a “Hippocratic Oath for mathematicians.” She also joins the calls for much more thorough regulation of the AI field and to update existing civic-rights laws to include algorithm-based decisions.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Studies on the Perils of Polyester Underwear and the Personality of Rocks Win Ig Nobel Prizes – (LA Times – September 22, 2016)
Not every scientific study can be about weighty topics, like gravity waves or gene editing. Sometimes you can gain a true scientific insight by discovering that mammals of vastly different sizes require roughly the same amount of time to empty their bladders, or by noticing that people who speak 10 disparate languages all came up with a version of the word “huh.” That’s why we celebrate the Ig Nobel Prizes. These awards are bestowed every fall by the editors of the Annals of Improbable Research. There are 10 winners in a range of categories, which typically include fields such as physics, neuroscience and mathematics (but which also may include entomology, safety engineering or acoustics). The prize-winning scholarship may sound silly, but that doesn’t mean it’s trivial. On the contrary, said Ig Nobel Master of Ceremonies Marc Abrahams, “Every winner has done something that first makes people laugh, then makes people think.” The article includes the complete list of this year’s winners, some of which are wacky enough to be quite insightful. For example: In ECONOMICS, the award goes to a trio of researchers who showed that a smooth, dark rock has personality traits distinct from those of a lighter, more rugged rock. If you think that sounds bogus, you’re in good company — the researchers didn’t buy it, either. By asking people to ascribe personality traits to inanimate objects, they highlighted the flaws of a controversial marketing tool known as the Brand Personality Five-Factor Model. Their study was published in 2014 in the journal Marketing Theory.
JUST FOR FUN
America’s Most Elaborate Corn Maze Is Made of GPS and Math – (Wired – September 23, 2016)
Mike Wissemann’s 300-year-old Massachusetts farm grows asparagus, strawberries, and sweet corn. And each year since 2000, it also sprouts an elaborate image in seed corn. Designed for many years by landscape artist Will Sillin, and since 2015 by Mike’s daughter-in-law Jess Marsh Wissemann, Mike’s Maze has featured portraits of Charles Darwin and Noah Webster; replicas of the Mona Lisa and Andy Warhol’s soup can; and interpretations of Alice in Wonderland and a classic Work Projects Administration poster. Most farms stick with geometric shapes and simple pictures. But Wissemann’s goal is to fuse fine art with seed corn—and that can be difficult. Artists cut the designs as the corn grows, and removing the wrong stalks can skew lines, squash letters, or change the shape of an eye or a chin. To succeed, Wissemann’s Sunderland farm has used an arsenal of high- and low-tech tools, and over the years the gear available has changed the look of the maze. The article details how newer and newer technological tools have changed the way the mazes are created over the last 16 years. Aerial photographs showcase eight of their masterpieces.
A FINAL QUOTE
If we can recognize that change and uncertainty are basic principles, we can greet the future and the transformation we are undergoing with the understanding that we do not know enough to be pessimistic. — Hazel Henderson, futurist, economist, syndicated columnist.
A special thanks to: 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