|Volume 19, Number 19 – 10/15/16 |
FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
Horses can learn to use symbols to communicate their preferences to humans.
Yahoo secretly scanned all customers’ incoming emails to comply with a demand from U.S. intelligence sources.
Voters in 15 states, including several battlegrounds, will use systems that lack an important safeguard against software errors and tampering.
A recent study has predicted that space radiation would cause irreversible brain damage to astronauts’ traveling to Mars.
by John L. Petersen
Gregg Braden Returns to Berkeley Springs on October 29th
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
There is a new world rapidly emerging, as witnessed by any number of new discoveries and ideas that we have featured here in FUTUREdition. Mind blowing new technologies and capabilities have the potential of changing the nature of what a human is, revolutionizing how we power almost everything we do, how we engage in commerce and society, and on and on. It’s a paradigm shift of the first order.
At the same time, of course, the old order is imploding. One doesn’t have to go much farther than tuning in to the current US presidential election to realize that something extraordinary is happening to the status quo. Extraordinary attempts are being made by the powers that be to sustain that system that has given us the problems that shake the world every day. It’s unlikely, though, that they’ll give up any time soon, so it’s reasonable to assume that there is increasing chaos inbound, as the transition to a new world works its way through the wreckage of the old one.
Perhaps the most important issue for those of us who are interested in contributing to the emergence of the new world is sustaining hope. I say that because the retiring order, which clearly dominates all of the major outlets for news and entertainment, is actively both masking significant aspects of the underlying reality as well as constantly ratcheting up the fear factor throughout the populace – presumably to drive people into the hands of a savior government.
The efforts of the government and media, coupled with the extraordinary reconfiguration of the underlying science, environment, technology and social structures, could very easily, left unabated, generate significant apprehension and the loss of hope. We are, in fact, inundated with reports from some fronts that argue that we are facing the end of humanity and life on this planet because of trends that are in place. I’d argue that they do not take into consideration all aspects of the larger system and ignore significant historical information, but the point is, it’s easy to feel like the whole world is moving under your feet and there is no potential positive outcome in sight.
The alternative is to look at the whole big picture. Back away and contextualize what you see in terms of a multidimensional framework that goes back in time to consider past shifts and what we know about the history of the planet and its denizens; vertically, (if you will) to take in as many dimensional inputs as possible; outwardly, to consider the perspectives of sources that seem to have a much bigger view of what is going on and where we are headed; and inwardly, (perhaps) to contemplate who we, as humans, are becoming and what the necessary characteristics and skills are that will sustain us in the new reality that is aborning.
Some people would prefer not to intellectually engage in the dynamics of the transition, finding the escalating, disparate messages incoherent at best, and very threatening at worst. Offered the system-served alternatives of sports, entertainment and stimulants – or even a faith-based worldview that proposes that everything will be okay if you keep your head down, your eyes closed, and your mind clear – most buy-in quickly, shielding themselves from an informed understanding about the extraordinary events that are transforming everything we know.
But without an understanding about what is happening as the world reconfigures itself, uncertainty about the future floods the windshield, fear emerges and hope recedes. One can either solve the problem by trying to make some sense of the emerging situation . . . or not. Opting out is a short-term palliative but the contextual ignorance will necessarily in time translate into surprises, as big, fast-moving, unanticipated events suddenly emerge. In these kinds of situations, one can be confident of finding oneself rapidly out of both time and money . . . and awash in fear.
The alternative is to be able to coherently organize what seems to be happening and posit where it might be going. This will allow one to build a vision – a picture – of what might be reasonably thought to be inbound. It could, of course, be a series of scenarios, but in any case, it is a process of sense making.
Hope, then, is about having a vision and an intuitive sense (at least), that that future is positive and there is a navigable track from here to there.
The vision will only be as good as the assumptions about the behavior of the underlying system that underpins it. If you don’t understand what’s really going on in the world, you will likely presume nonexistent options and paths will be available. So, making some sense out of all of the moving parts – both seemingly constructive and destructive – is critical to having a legitimate sense of hope.
In practical terms, that means that we must follow and understand both the contributing factors and failure modes of the imploding old system as well as the animating elements and interworkings of the emerging new world.
So let me here highlight a number of significant data points that are clear descriptors of the structural failure of the legacy model and the last gasp attempts that are being undertaken to try to sustain it.
The thing to keep in mind here is the INTERNET. This global nervous system is allowing information to proliferate thousands of times faster than in past global shifts, with knowledge accumulating more quickly in more areas than the governmental, financial and press sectors can keep up with. This is forcing increasingly strident attempts to stay in control, most of which appear to be doomed to failure. The cracks are showing up everywhere.
Let’s start with the clear understanding that in the view of the present system, in general the people do not count. This piece from The Boston Globe starts to expose the underbelly of the beast.
Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.
The people we elect aren’t the ones calling the shots, says Tufts University’s Michael Glennon
istock/photo illustration by lesley becker/globe staff
By Jordan Michael Smith, October 19, 2014
The voters who put Barack Obama in office expected some big changes. From the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping to Guantanamo Bay to the Patriot Act, candidate Obama was a defender of civil liberties and privacy, promising a dramatically different approach from his predecessor.
But six years into his administration, the Obama version of national security looks almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. Guantanamo Bay remains open. The NSA has, if anything, become more aggressive in monitoring Americans. Drone strikes have escalated. Most recently it was reported that the same president who won a Nobel Prize in part for promoting nuclear disarmament is spending up to $1 trillion modernizing and revitalizing America’s nuclear weapons.
Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer: Obama couldn’t have changed policies much even if he tried.
Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.
Glennon cites the example of Obama and his team being shocked and angry to discover upon taking office that the military gave them only two options for the war in Afghanistan: The United States could add more troops, or the United States could add a lot more troops. Hemmed in, Obama added 30,000 more troops.
Glennon’s critique sounds like an outsider’s take, even a radical one. In fact, he is the quintessential insider: He was legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a consultant to various congressional committees, as well as to the State Department. “National Security and Double Government” comes favorably blurbed by former members of the Defense Department, State Department, White House, and even the CIA. And he’s not a conspiracy theorist: Rather, he sees the problem as one of “smart, hard-working, public-spirited people acting in good faith who are responding to systemic incentives”—without any meaningful oversight to rein them in. Read more . . .
The Internet is being used to rapidly expose the significant vulnerabilities of both the election process and the candidates. Consider this piece from Robert Steele’s Public Intelligence Blog:
It turns out Assange wasn’t kidding. He is delivering tranches of 1000 or so hacked emails a day from major political organizations and politicians.
The Anti NWO Legions worldwide are going wild with the new revelations. I am totally amazed. It’s like going to a carnival where suddenly you get to see all the clowns acting out the games you’ve only vaguely been told about and a whole lot more.
Some of the emails are some of the missing 30,000 emails which Hillary Clinton had scrubbed off her illegal home servers.
They include classified documents (totally illegal), declarations of her true intents to finish the job of stripping away all border authority and regulations from the U.S. Government, as well as handing over all economic regulatory functions to mysterious international cartels of unknown people and demonstrations of collusion with Ivy League academics to keep the U.S. population complacent, obedient and ignorant (the Orwellian program for mass tyranny).
Collectively some of these emails clearly demonstrate that:
Every statement ever made by Hillary Clinton about her scrubbed emails and illegal servers was a lie. She never told the truth a single time about any of it. She lied to Congress, the FBI, the Mass Media, the public and minimally should end up with a 20 year sentence Read more . . .
This scramble to sustain the old order has turned into a rapid consolidation of the powers of governments and corporations. A review of the powers that have been usurped by the Executive Branch of the US government is rather mindboggling.
The Imperial President’s Toolbox of Terror: A Dictatorship Waiting to Happen
John W. Whitehead, Guest
“When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”~Richard Nixon
Presidents don’t give up power.
Executive orders don’t expire at the end of each presidential term.
And every successive occupant of the Oval Office since George Washington, who issued the first executive order, has expanded the reach and power of the presidency.
The Constitution invests the President with very specific, limited powers: to serve as Commander-in-Chief of the military, grant pardons, make treaties (with the approval of Congress), appoint ambassadors and federal judges (again with Congress’ blessing), and veto legislation.
In recent years, however, American presidents have anointed themselves with the power to wage war, unilaterally kill Americans, torture prisoners, strip citizens of their rights, arrest and detain citizens indefinitely, carry out warrantless spying on Americans, and erect their own secretive, shadow government.
These are the powers that will be inherited by the next heir to the throne, and it won’t make a difference whether it’s a President Trump or a President Clinton occupying the Oval Office.
The powers amassed by each successive president through the negligence of Congress and the courts—powers which add up to a toolbox of terror for an imperial ruler—empower whomever occupies the Oval Office to act as a dictator, above the law and beyond any real accountability.
Consider some of the presidential powers—which have been acquired through the use of executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements and can be activated by any sitting president—that have allowed past presidents to operate above the law and beyond the reach of the Constitution.
The power to kill. As the New York Times concluded, “President Obama, who came to office promising transparency and adherence to the rule of law, has become the first president to claim the legal authority to order an American citizen killed without judicial involvement, real oversight or public accountability.” Obama’s kill lists—signature drone strikes handpicked by the president—have been justified by the Justice Department as lawful because they are subject to internal deliberations by the executive branch. “In other words,” writes Amy Davidson for the New Yorker, “it’s due process if the President thinks about it.”
The extended capabilities that have been developed by the government to maintain control of the populace should take your breath away. Edward Snowden provided an extraordinary view into the control machinery of the surveillance side of the system. Here’s a list of some of the different programs that Snowden helped expose.
New Film Tells the Story of Edward Snowden; Here Are the Surveillance Programs He Helped Expose
Oliver Stone’s latest film, “Snowden,” bills itself as a dramatized version of the life of Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who revealed the global extent of U.S. surveillance capabilities.
Stone’s rendering of Snowden’s life combines facts with Hollywood invention, covering Snowden being discharged from the military after an injury in basic training, meeting his girlfriend, and training in the CIA with fictitious mentors (including Nicolas Cage’s character, most likely a composite of whistleblowers like Thomas Drake and Bill Binney). Snowden then goes undercover, only to see an op turn ugly; becomes a contractor for the CIA and NSA; and finally chooses to leave the intelligence community and disclose its vast surveillance apparatus, some of which he helped develop.
The movie hits key points in Snowden’s story, including his growing interest in constitutional law and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, some of the U.S. surveillance programs he eventually unmasked, and parts of his furtive meetings in Hong Kong with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras (co-founders of The Intercept), as well as The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill.
There are doses of artistic license — for example, a Rubik’s Cube hiding the drive where he stored the documents, and Snowden’s CIA mentor spying on his girlfriend through her webcam. In hazier focus are the global questions his revelations raised, including the legal and moral implications of the U.S. government collecting data on foreigners and Americans with relative impunity, and the very real stories born of Snowden’s massive disclosures.
So here’s a retrospective of sorts for moviegoers and others interested in the journalism Edward Snowden made possible through his decision to become a whistleblower: In all, over 150 articles from 23 news organizations worldwide have incorporated documents provided by Snowden, and The Intercept and other outlets continue to mine the archive for stories of social and political significance. Read more . . .
Of course, it’s not only governments that are trying to control the people, it’s also corporations. Some would say that the corporations in fact run the whole system. In any case, the actions of corporations vis-à-vis the people and the environment are increasingly coercive and corrosive. With six corporations controlling almost all of the mainstream media, there is little light shown on some of the major examples of where corporate power is dominating the interests of common people and the physical world in which we live.
Here’s an example of how the extraordinary financial influence of corporations allows them to side-step taking responsibility for their behavior.
Ecuador’s Legal Battle With Chevron Foreshadows Global Corporate Coup D’état
Friday, 14 October 2016 00:00
By Kyla Sankey, Truthout | News Analysis
A hand covered in crude oil from one of the hundreds of open toxic pits Chevron abandoned in the Ecuadorean Amazon rainforest, near Lago Agrio, in a photo taken on April 15, 2010. (Photo: Rainforest Action Network)
In the past 50 years, the lives of Indigenous people in the Ecuadorian Amazon have been completely transformed. Since the arrival of Texaco in 1964, extensive environmental damage wrought by the extraction of oil and dumping of toxic waste has devastated the land, water and natural resources on which the Indigenous tribes of these regions have depended for more than 8,000 years.
Today, two of these tribes have ceased to exist due to the deaths of all their members, and others are at risk of being wiped out soon. In the remaining tribes, community members have suffered extensive and irreversible health problems: toxic exposure has generated a health crisis involving cancer, birth defects, miscarriages and leukemia.
Texaco’s operations included drilling and systematically dumping crude in the Amazon. During its operations between 1964 and 1990, it left 880 pits of solid waste, poured 60 billion gallons of toxic water into local water sources and spilled 650,000 barrels of crude oil in the jungles and pathways. Perhaps the most striking feature in the case of Texaco is that the damage caused was not accidental but deliberate, a result of cutting costs on safety regulations and environmental technologies in order to maximize profits.
This case also reflects the racism inherent in the history of colonialism and capitalism. Texaco shunned Indigenous communities, and their livelihoods and ecological resources were treated as the terra nullius of the colonial era: land seen as belonging to nobody and going to waste. Such beliefs, in turn, have provided the justification for corporations like Texaco to appropriate these resources and convert them into commercial goods. It was only in 1997 that the Ecuadorian government recognized that there were in fact Indigenous tribes living in the Amazon.
In the face of the devastation of their lands and ecological resources, local communities did not quietly give up and abandon their ways of life. In 1994, peasant and Indigenous communities joined together to form the Amazon Defense Coalition, now called the Union of People Affected by the Oil Operations of Texaco (UDAPT), in order to protect their environment from devastation. They insist that their campaign is not only about material compensation, but a quest for justice and defense of an entire way of life in harmony with natural resources. Pablo Fajardo, the main lawyer of UDAPT, emphasized, “We have to understand the damage is not only material. It is holistic, environmental, social, cultural, economic and religious. It is damage to people and their ecosystems.” Read more . . .
All of these converging trends has led Jon Rappoport to suggest a new ending for Orwell’s famous novel, 1984. This is interesting reading, but I don’t think this is the likely end of the road . . . at least, not for everyone. There is a new, extraordinary world emerging that we all will have the opportunity to help build. We’ll feature some of these new, amazing trends in later editions of this missive, but today, I’d like to suggest that it is important to be able to make sense out of the implosion dynamics that are converging around us – to understand what all of these oppressive trends mean.
They mean that the old world is struggling to stay alive in the face of the emergence of a new world. It certainly means that these old systems are not sustainable. They cannot continue on this path . . . especially in the face of the increasingly ubiquitous and capable Internet.
“Money can buy you immortality, according to the Russian internet multi-millionaire who is ploughing a fortune into a project to create a human that never dies. Web entrepreneur Dmitry Itskov is behind the ‘2045 Initiative’, an ambitious experiment to bring about immortality within the next 30 years by creating a robot capable of storing human personalities. The group of neuroscientists, robot builders and consciousness researchers say they can create an android that is capable of uploading someone’s personality. Mr Itskov, who has made a reported £1bn from his Moscow-based news publishing company, is the project’s financial backer.” (The Telegraph, 3/13/16)
Winston Smith, the hero of Orwell’s 1984, has just been arrested for crimes against the State. Sitting in his cell, he watches as a familiar figure steps through the door. It’s O’Brien, the man he thought was his friend. But O’Brien is an undercover agent of the Party, and the Party rules all.
O’Brien: Don’t worry, Smith, I’m not here to wring a confession out of you or torture you. We’ve updated our methods. We have new technology. We can preserve the life and essence of every human now. This is our mission: to save, to improve, to transform.
Smith: What are you going to do?
O’Brien: We’re going to take your essence, your personality, which is your brain, and we’re going to transplant it into a new body, an artificial construct. Some people would call that a robot, but it’s really an advanced bio-machine. It’s programmed to operate correctly in the new society.
Smith: Operate correctly? Read more . .
The Rise of Robots: Forget Evil AI – the Real Risk is Far More Insidious – (Guardian – August 30, 2016)
When we look at the rise of artificial intelligence, it’s easy to get carried away with dystopian visions of sentient machines that rebel against their human creators. However, the real risk posed by AI – at least in the near term – is that it’s far more likely that robots would inadvertently harm or frustrate humans while carrying out our orders than they would become conscious and rise up against us. In recognition of this, the University of California, Berkeley has launched a center to focus on building people-pleasing AIs. The Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence, launched with $5.5m in funding from the Open Philanthropy Project, is lead by computer science professor and artificial intelligence pioneer Stuart Russell. Up until now, AI has primarily been applied to very limited contexts such as playing Chess or Go or recognizing objects in images, where there isn’t much scope for the system to do much damage. As they start to make decisions on our behalf within the real world, the stakes are much higher. “As soon as you put things in the real world, with self-driving cars, digital assistants … as soon as they buy things on your behalf, turn down appointments, then they have to align with human values,” Russell said. He uses autonomous vehicles to illustrate the type of problem the center will try to solve. Someone building a self-driving car might instruct it never to go through a red light, but the machine might then hack into the traffic light control system so that all of the lights are changed to green. In this case the car would be obeying orders but in a way that humans didn’t expect or intend. Similarly, an artificially intelligent hedge fund designed to maximize the value of its portfolio could be incentivized to short consumer stocks, buy long on defense stocks and then start a war – as suggested by Elon Musk in Werner Herzog’s latest documentary. “Even when you think you’ve put fences around what an AI system can do it will tend to find loopholes just as we do with our tax laws. You want an AI system that isn’t motivated to find loopholes,” Russell said.
Dolphins Recorded Having a Conversation ‘Just Like Two People’ for First Time – (Telegraph – September 11, 2016)
Two dolphins have been recorded having a conversation for the first time after scientists developed an underwater microphone which could distinguish the animals’ different “voices”. Researchers have known for decades that the mammals had an advanced form of communication. But scientists have now shown that dolphins alter the volume and frequency of pulsed clicks to form individual “words” which they string together into sentences in much the same way that humans speak. Researchers at the Karadag Nature Reserve, in Feodosia, Ukraine, recorded two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins, called Yasha and Yana, talking to each other in a pool. Each dolphin would listen to a sentence of pulses without interruption, before replying. Lead researcher Dr Vyacheslav Ryabov, said: “Essentially, this exchange resembles a conversation between two people.” Each pulse represents a phoneme or a word of the dolphin’s spoken language. “The analysis of numerous pulses registered in our experiments showed that the dolphins took turns in producing [sentences] and did not interrupt each other, which gives reason to believe that each of the dolphins listened to the other’s pulses before producing its own. “This language exhibits all the design features present in the human spoken language, this indicates a high level of intelligence and consciousness in dolphins, and their language can be ostensibly considered a highly developed spoken language, akin to the human language.”
Bees Trained by Scientists Can Teach Each Other New Skills – (The Verge – October 5, 2016)
Researchers from Queen Mary University of London, managed to teach 23 out of 40 bees from an original group to pull a string to access food on a disc that was hidden under a plastic cover. Bees from another group were then introduced to the testing chamber at the same time as their fast-learning friends, one at a time, so they could observe how to yank their own treats. Impressively, 60% of the new bees were able to replicate the behavior without any human training. As a final step, scientists reintroduced the string-pulling bees back into regular colonies, where the knowledge that pulling a string could equal food eventually propagated among the majority of the colony’s worker bees. As a contrast, scientists tested another group of untrained bees, discovering that of 110 insects, only two could solve the problem. The study, published in PLOS Biology, shows that animals may be able to able to pass on skills in a way we previously thought was largely exclusive to humans. “Cultural transmission does not require the high cognitive sophistication specific to humans, nor is it a distinctive feature of humans,” study co-author Clint Perry said. See also: Apes prove it: You don’t have to be human to understand what someone else is thinking.
Horses Can Use Symbols to Talk to Us – (Science – September 21, 2016)
Scientists have discovered that the animals can learn to use another human tool for communicating: pointing to symbols. They join a short list of other species, including some primates, dolphins, and pigeons, with this talent. Scientists taught 23 riding horses of various breeds to look at a display board with three icons, representing wearing or not wearing a blanket. Horses could choose between a “no change” symbol or symbols for “blanket on” or “blanket off.” Previously, their owners made this decision for them. Horses are adept at learning and following signals people give them, and it took these equines an average of 10 days to learn to approach and touch the board and to understand the meaning of the symbols. All 23 horses learned the entire task within 14 days. They were then tested in various weather conditions to see whether they could use the board to tell their trainers about their blanket preferences. They were then tested in various weather conditions to see whether they could use the board to tell their trainers about their blanket preferences. If it was wet, cold, and windy, they touched the “blanket on” icon; horses that were already wearing a blanket nosed the “no change” image. But when the weather was sunny, the animals touched the “blanket off” symbol; those that weren’t blanketed pressed the “no change” icon. The study’s strong results show that the horses understood the consequences of their choices, say the scientists, who hope that other researchers will use their method to ask horses more questions. (Editor’s note: This research is, in a sense, far more about humans learning how to structure interspecies communication than about horses learning anything.) See also: Monkeys Can Think about Thinking, Too.
Scientists Discover Hundreds of Footprints Left at the Dawn of Modern Humanity – (Washington Post – October 12, 2016)
The footprints weave intricate paths across the desolate landscape. Some tracks race straight toward an unseen finish line; others meander, the outlines of their ancient owners’ toes and curves of their arches carved deeply into the sun-baked earth. The air shimmers with heat, and the active volcano that locals call “the mountain of God” looms in the middle distance. It’s not difficult for geologist Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce to imagine this scene as it would have looked thousands of years ago, when prehistoric people walked across the muddy terrain and left an indelible record of their presence pressed into the ground. The site in northern Tanzania is the largest assemblage of ancient human footprints in Africa and one of the biggest on the planet, according to Liutkus-Pierce and her colleagues. The 400-odd footprints, which cover an area the size of a tennis court, were imprinted in deposits from an ancient flood, dried, then covered up with a second layer of mud and preserved for as many as 19,000 years. Now excavated, they offer an unprecedented window into an ancient world. Anthropologists at the site plan to use the footprints to understand social dynamics at the end of the Pleistocene era, a time when the climate was changing and Homo sapiens was on the brink of settling down and learning to farm. Already, the researchers have distinguished at least 24 distinct trackways (series of steps that can be attributed to a single person) going in two directions. They’ve established the age and genders of some of the footprint-makers, and sorted out who was walking and who was running. See also: Unique skin impressions of the last dinosaurs from what is now Europe.
One in 10 Children Has AIDS Defense – (BBC News – September 29, 2016)
A tenth of children have a “monkey-like” immune system that stops them developing AIDS, a study suggests. The study found the children’s immune systems were “keeping calm”, which prevented them being wiped out. An untreated HIV infection will kill 60% of children within two and a half years, but the equivalent infection in monkeys is not fatal. The researchers analyzed the blood of 170 children from South Africa who had HIV, had never had antiretroviral therapy and yet had not developed AIDS. Tests showed they had tens of thousands of human immunodeficiency viruses in every milliliter of their blood. This would normally send their immune system into overdrive, trying to fight the infection, or simply make them seriously ill, but neither had happened. Prof. Philip Goulder, one of the researchers from the University of Oxford, said: “Essentially, their immune system is ignoring the virus as far as possible. “Waging war against the virus is in most cases the wrong thing to do.” `Counter-intuitively, not attacking the virus seems to save the immune system. For scientists, the way the 10% of children cope with the virus has striking similarities to the way more than 40 non-human primate species cope with simian immunodeficiency virus or SIV. Prof. Goulder said: “One of the things that comes out of this study is that HIV disease is not so much to do with HIV, but with the immune response to it.” Dr. Ann Chahroudi and Dr. Guido Silvestri, from Emory University in the US, note that the study may have found the “very earliest signs of coevolution of HIV in humans”.
3-D Printed Bone Material Acts Like Real Bone for Custom-Made Implants – (NBC News – September 28, 2016)
Researchers have invented a new type of artificial bone that can be shaped using a 3-D printer for customized implants. The new material, which they call hyper-elastic bone, appears to act like natural bone in the body and can repair deformed bones and some injuries, the team reports. When the material was tested in a monkey, the bone fused to the animal’s skull, and new blood vessels grew into it, the team at Northwestern University said. “Within four weeks, the implant had fully integrated, fully vascularized with the monkey’s own skull. And there is actually evidence of new bone formation,” according to Adam Jakus, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of materials science and engineering at Northwestern. Jakus and assistant professor Ramille Shah developed a mixture of materials including hydroxyapatite, the main mineral component of natural bone tissue, which also lends itself to ink-jet printing. “Despite the fact that it is majority ceramic, which is usually very brittle, it possesses very unique nano and micro-structural properties that makes it highly elastic,” Shah said. Currently, the best option is a bone graft from the patient, which can be painful and which doesn’t always work well, or donated bone from someone who has died. These transplants often do not heal well. Also, artificial bone grafts currently in development are often brittle and risk being rejected. Researchers hope to gain permission to test the implants in people within the next five years. The material is cheap and appears to be useful for a range of bone injuries, including for the spine, skull and jaw, they said.
The Pigeon Will See You Now – (BBC News – February 14, 2016)
Pigeons are often seen as dirty and an urban nuisance, but they are just the latest in a long line of animals that have been found to have abilities to help humans. Despite having a brain no bigger than the tip of your index finger, pigeons have an impressive visual memory. Recently it was shown that they could be trained to be as accurate as humans at detecting breast cancer in images. This article looks at three more of our feathered and furry friends who could have a big impact in medicine. For example, rats are often associated with spreading disease rather than preventing it, but this long-tailed rodent is a highly sensitive detector that can save lives. Inside a rodent’s nose are up to 1,000 different types of olfactory receptors, whereas humans only have a feeble 100 to 200 types. This gives rodents, such as rats, the ability to sniff out subtle scents. As a result, African-pouched rats – commonly described as “kitten-sized rodents” – are being put to work in Mozambique to detect tuberculosis. Their abilities are being studied at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, where trained rats can detect a specific scent produced by TB bacteria in human mucus samples. When the rats detect the scent, they stop and rub their legs to indicate a sample is infected. Traditionally, lab technicians prepare slides and examine each sample using microscopy. A hundred samples would take them more than two days, but for a rat it takes less than 20 minutes. This rat detection method is affordable and doesn’t rely on specialist equipment, which is often lacking in countries where TB is prevalent. It is also more accurate – the rats are able to find more TB infections and, therefore, save more lives.
Brain Implant Allows Paralyzed Man to Feel Again – (Washington Post – October 13, 2016)
For the first time, scientists have helped a paralyzed man experience the sense of touch in his mind-controlled robotic arm. For the cutting-edge experiment, a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, electrodes smaller than a grain of sand were implanted in the sensory cortex of the man’s brain. The electrodes received signals from a robot arm. When a researcher pressed the fingers of the prosthesis, the man felt the pressure in the fingers of his paralyzed right hand, effectively bypassing his damaged spinal cord. The results of the experiment, which have been repeated over several months with 30-year-old Nathan Copeland, offer a breakthrough in the restoration of a critical function in people with paralyzed limbs: the ability not just to move those limbs, but to feel them. Prior to this experiment, no robotic limb had allowed a paralyzed person to experience the natural sense of touch, a top goal in rehabilitative prosthetic medicine. Currently, electrical stimulation of nerves in amputees’ bodies offers enough sensation to allow for improvements in the control of artificial limbs, but not true sensation. In paralyzed people without a functioning peripheral nerve system, it has been impossible to experience touch. Mind-controlled robotic arms got them only half way: Being able to move and manipulate objects was an advance, but without the sensation of touch, these prosthetic limb movements tend to be slow and clumsy.
Shining Light on the Head: Photobiomodulation for Brain Disorders – (Science Direct – December, 2016)
Photobiomodulation (PBM) describes the use of red or near-infrared light to stimulate, heal, regenerate, and protect tissue that has either been injured, is degenerating, or else is at risk of dying. One of the organ systems of the human body that is most necessary to life, and whose optimum functioning is most worried about by humankind in general, is the brain. The brain suffers from many different disorders that can be classified into three broad groupings: traumatic events (stroke, traumatic brain injury, and global ischemia), degenerative diseases (dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s), and psychiatric disorders (depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder). There is some evidence that all these seemingly diverse conditions can be beneficially affected by applying light to the head. There is even the possibility that PBM could be used for cognitive enhancement in normal healthy people. In this transcranial PBM (tPBM) application, near-infrared (NIR) light is often applied to the forehead because of the better penetration (no hair, longer wavelength). Some workers have used lasers, but recently the introduction of inexpensive light emitting diode (LED) arrays has allowed the development of light emitting helmets or “brain caps”. This review will cover the mechanisms of action of photobiomodulation to the brain, and summarize some of the key pre-clinical studies and clinical trials that have been undertaken for diverse brain disorders.
Why Is This Researcher Putting Fitbits on Squirrels? – (Science – September 30, 2016)
Activity trackers like Fitbits and Jawbones help fitness enthusiasts log the calories they burn, their heart rates, and even how many flights of stairs they climb in a day. Biologist Cory Williams of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff is using similar technology to track the energy consumption of arctic ground squirrels in Alaska—insight that may reveal how the animals efficiently forage for food while avoiding being picked off by golden eagles. This week, Williams published a study in Royal Society Open Science that compared the activity levels of male and female squirrels. He found that although males spend a lot more time outside of their burrows, they’re pretty lazy, and sometimes just bask in the sun during warmer months. Females, on the other hand, have limited time to spare when caring for their young, and use it to run around and forage for themselves and their babies. In addition to previous work on arctic ground squirrel hibernation and seasonal differences in behavior, the finding is helping his team figure out why males tend to be more susceptible to being eaten.
Can a Jacket That Doubles as a Tent Help Refugees? – (Fast Company – no date)
This is a short video about a fashion student who has created Adiff, a humanitarian fashion brand that features transformable garments: a jacket that can turn into a tent or one that can turn into a sleeping bag, backpacks that function as flotation devices and more. See also: This Coat For Refugees Doubles As A Sleeping Bag And Tent for other transformable garments for refugees created by students from the Royal College of Art.
Yahoo Secretly Scanned Customer Emails for U.S. Intelligence Sources – (Reuters – October 4, 2016)
Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter. The company complied with a classified U.S. government demand, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said three former employees and a fourth person apprised of the events. Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to an intelligence agency’s request by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time. It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified. Reuters was unable to determine what data Yahoo may have handed over, if any, and if intelligence officials had approached other email providers besides Yahoo with this kind of request. (Editor’s note: As far as is known, this is unrelated to Yahoo’s 2014 data breach in which at least 500 million user accounts were stolen. The company said it believes a “state-sponsored actor” was behind the data breach, meaning an individual acting on behalf of a government.)
Software That Identifies Any Passing Face Is Ready for Market – (Popular Science – October 11, 2016)
Is it worth the convenience for a machine to recognize your face? Submit a selfie, and you don’t need to carry a ticket into a concert, promises Moscow’s NTechLab, which used face-scanning technology to let people into an electronic music festival this summer. Of course, the selfies, once submitted, stay with NTechLab, which is free to sell its face database and facial recognition tool to anyone, from concerts to police departments to authoritarian governments. NTechLab’s young cofounders seem unphased by the notion that facial recognition software could threaten privacy. The Wall Street Journal reports: The 26-year-old Mr. Kukharenko and 29-year-old Mr. Kabakov [NTechLab cofounders] largely brushed off any fears that their technology could end up in the wrong hands. Mr. Kabakov said that simply owning a smartphone means you can’t opt out of surveillance. “There is no private life,” he said. The program uses machine learning: training algorithms to recognize specific faces again and again by feeding images over and over until the algorithms get it right. (A set of 20 million labeled pictures of celebrities were used for training). Again, from the Wall Street Journal: the platform made headlines in Russia when a group on VKontakte used FindFace to identify and harass women who had allegedly acted in pornographic films online, going so far as sending messages and photographs to friends and relatives of the women. According to NTechLab, the group was shut down by VKontakte and the user group was banned from FindFace, which has nearly a million registered users. But ethical concerns have continued to plague facial recognition technology, which has become ensnared in lawsuits in the U.S. Last summer, British police scanned the faces of people attending the Download music festival, to see if they could find known criminals in attendance. Faced with public outcry and without a clear procedure for what to do with the pictures of faces, the police deleted all of them.
Uber to Move Freight, Target Trucking for the Long Haul – (Reuters – September 28, 2016)
With its recent acquisition of self-driving truck startup Otto, Uber Technologies Inc. is plotting its entry into the long-haul trucking business, aiming to establish itself as a freight hauler and a technology partner for the industry. Otto plans to expand its fleet of trucks from six to about 15 and is forging partnerships with independent truckers, according to Otto co-founder Lior Ron. Starting next year, Otto-branded trucks and others equipped with Otto technology will begin hauling freight bound for warehouses and stores, he said. Uber has already started pitching services to shippers, truck fleets and independent drivers, and the services go well beyond Otto’s initially stated goal of outfitting trucks with self-driving technology. Fully autonomous trucks remain years away – some trucking industry experts estimate two decades – and the Otto vehicles are currently manned by a driver and an engineer. But the Uber-Otto efforts include a host of other technologies involving navigation, mapping and tracking, which can be deployed even as work continues on self-driving systems.
Germany Announces Revolutionary Bike Highway – (Yes Magazine – July 13, 2016)
The idea was sparked six years ago when a cultural project caused the one-day closure of the road between Duisburg and Dortmund and more than three million people flooded the road on bikes, skates, and feet. Last December, Germany’s first stretch of bike highway opened for business between Mülheim an der Ruhr and Essen. Eventually, the Radschnellweg will link 10 cities and four universities with 62 miles of bike highway. The bikeways—and parallel pedestrian paths—are completely separated from the vehicle lanes, with a 13-foot width, tunnels, lights, and snow clearing because safety and accessibility issues are two of the biggest obstacles to biking. Coupled with Europe’s blossoming affection for electric bikes and Germany’s proximity between cities, the Radschnellweg stands to attract a new wave of pedal-powered commuters. Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin, Munich, and Nuremberg are also undertaking bike-related feasibility studies in order to curb traffic and pollution in those urban areas. The Germans are only the latest to enter the bike highway fray. The Netherlands started building its network of bikeways 10 years ago and continue to expand it, while Denmark focused its efforts on Copenhagen. Norway will soon be getting in on the action too with bikeways connecting nine cities.
BMW Unveils Super-safe Motorcycle That Can’t Fall Over – (Dezeen – October 13, 2016)
BMW’s latest concept motorcycle claims to make accidents “a thing of the past”. The zero-emissions BMW Motorrad Vision Next 100 incorporates a self-balancing system that BMW claims will protect the rider from any accidents and liberate them from the need to wear a helmet. “The vehicle will be so safe that you cannot fall over, and accidents will be a thing of the past.” The ultra-safe system works in a number of ways. A self-balancing system keeps the bike upright, by automatically adjusting banking angles, while a set of “smart glasses” scan for hazards ahead and alert the driver in advance. As a concept vehicle, it represents the company’s prediction for the future of motorcycle design. A self-balancing system keeps the bike upright, by automatically adjusting banking angles, while a set of “smart glasses” scan for hazards ahead and alert the driver in advance. To steer the bike, the rider moves the handlebars. Instead of turning just the front wheel, this moves the entire frame, while the stabilization system ensures that it doesn’t topple over. The design of the bike is largely based on the BMW R32, which was designed in 1932. The R32’s triangular frame has been reinterpreted, with bearings and joints hidden to make the frame appear as a singular volume. The surface of the frame is covered in matt black textile, while body elements such as the seat, upper frame cover and wings are made of carbon fiber. (Editor’s note: Check out the photos of this vehicle.)
The World’s Biggest School Meal Program Is Keeping Local Farmers in Business – (Yes Magazine – September 2, 2016)
First developed in the 1950s, Brazil’s school feeding initiative has expanded rapidly over the past decade or so as part of a successful push for “zero hunger” in Latin America’s most populous country. 45 million students benefit from the world’s biggest universal school feeding program, whose meals are helping keep Brazil’s small farmers on their land. A 2009 law stipulates that authorities must spend at least 30% of their school meal budget on produce from smallholder farmers. Family farmers and cooperatives have seen their fortunes rise as a result of the program, which guarantees them a local market and has helped to expand formal land rights nationwide. “Incomes have increased significantly because of it,” said Amanda Venturim, agricultural adviser to a cooperative of 56 small farmers outside Brasilia. Brazil has about 5 million small farms, according to the U.N.’s Centre of Excellence Against Hunger in Brasilia. These farmers are some of the prime beneficiaries of hundreds of millions of dollars of government spending on school meals.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE ‘Do Not Resist’: A Chilling Look at the Normalization of Warrior Cops – (Washington Post – September 30, 2016)
The haunting thing about the new policing documentary Do Not Resist is what it doesn’t show. There are no images of cops beating people. No viral videos of horrifying shootings. Sure, there are scenes from the Ferguson protests in which riot cops deploy tear gas. But there’s no blood, no Tasings, no death. What makes this movie so powerful is its terrifying portrayal of the mundanities of modern policing. The reviewer wrote, “I watched the movie weeks ago, but there are scenes that still flicker in my head.” It’s one thing to show an MRAP — a vehicle built for war, and for a very specific purpose in a very specific type of war — being misused after a small-town police agency obtained it from the Defense Department. “Do Not Resist” takes you to the base where those vehicles are stored. A camera trained on the window captures hundreds of MRAPs — rows and rows and rows of them — scrolling by, all destined for a police agency somewhere in America. A small town sheriff has no problem letting a film crew show this massive contraption built to withstand roadside bombs in a military convoy lumbering through his small town, because the notion that military vehicles aren’t appropriate for domestic policing is foreign to him. It’s one thing to read about a “dynamic entry” drug raid in which the police mistakenly or intentionally kill someone, or in which someone mistakenly or intentionally kills a police officer. It’s awful and tragic and unnecessary. “Do Not Resist” doesn’t show one of those. It instead shows the sort of drug raid that’s far more common. The movie depicts the raid from the beginning, as the officers from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department tactical team are meeting to discuss strategy. Some are wearing T-shirts with the tactical team’s logo. It’s a human skull imposed over two crossed AR-15s. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article.)
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
A Close Election Could Expose Risky Electronic Voting Machines – (Technology Review – September 30, 2016)
Voters in 15 states, including several battlegrounds, will use systems that lack an important safeguard against software errors and tampering. Two years after the hanging chad debacle in 2000, President Bush signed the Help America Vote Act, which among other things set aside more than $2 billion for states to replace outdated voting technologies including punch cards and lever machines. For-profit vendors raced to capitalize on the infusion, and many local election boards purchased computerized systems called direct recording electronic voting machines, or DREs. Many experts say that using paper ballots is a better way to make sure election results are accurate. The best systems rely on optical scanners to tabulate the votes. Nonetheless, many of the DREs that states purchased over a decade ago are still in service. Almost every state is using at least some systems that are no longer even manufactured. The older these machines get, the greater the risk of dangerous failures or crashes on election day. And even though they aren’t connected to the Internet, and in many cases are very secure, they could still be hacked. Software errors or hacks could be detected and even accounted for during a post-election audit—say, after an extremely close election—as long as the machine produces a paper record that a voter can use to make sure that her vote was recorded correctly. Unfortunately, many of the machines in use don’t produce such paper records. This November, voters in 11 different states will cast their votes using paperless electronic voting machines, including the important battleground states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida.
Pentagon Produced Fake Terrorist Propaganda – (Nation of Change – October 3, 2016)
A new investigation by the Sunday Times and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveals that the Pentagon paid a PR Firm $540 million between May, 2007 and December, 2011 to produce fake terrorist videos as part of a massive propaganda campaign. The U.K.-based PR firm, Bell Pottinger, was paid to create television segments in the style of Arabic news networks and to create fake insurgent videos, according to a former employee. The videos, which were approved by General David Petraeus, were used as fake propaganda to track down the people who watched them. The firm’s former chairman, Tim Bell, confirmed the collaboration, which included the CIA, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council. Bell said that the work was extremely secretive. The team was flown to film in Baghdad and were housed in a very secure building. Video editor Martin Wells discussed the work with the Bureau, calling it “shocking, eye-opening, life-changing.” Wells said that they produced several different types of videos: television spots portraying al-Qaeda in a negative light, fake news segments intended to look like they were “created by Arabic TV,” and fabricated propaganda films made to look like they came from al-Qaeda. For the third type of video, they were given very specific instructions: “We need to make this style of video, and we’ve got to use al-Qaeda’s footage,” Wells recalled. “We need it to be 10 minutes long, and it needs to be in this file format, and we need to encode it in this manner.” (Editor’s note: For corroboration, see this article from a mainstream British newspaper or simply type “Bell Pottinger al Queda” into Google and review the articles listed.)
Putin Exposes G20’s Financial Ties to ISIS – (Russia Insider – November 16, 2015)
Russian President Putin presented evidence of G20 member states providing financial support to ISIS…during the G20 summit in Antalya. Speaking with reporters after the summit, Putin revealed: I provided examples related to our data on the financing of Islamic State units by natural persons in various countries. The financing comes from 40 countries, as we established, including some G20 members. Putin also provided satellite images of the Islamic State’s lucrative oil smuggling operations: I’ve demonstrated the pictures from space to our colleagues, which clearly show the true size of the illegal trade of oil and petroleum products market. Car convoys stretching for dozens of kilometers, going beyond the horizon when seen from a height of four-five thousand meters. Interestingly, immediately after the summit, the U.S. announced that its warplanes had begun to bomb ISIS truck convoys used to “smuggle the crude oil it has been producing in Syria”. What a strange coincidence. It’s as if the U.S. knew exactly where these convoys were, but didn’t feel compelled to destroy them until now. See also this western media news report of Putin’s presentation.
Inside the Court That Rules the World – (BuzzFeed – August 28, 2016)
Known as Investor-state Dispute Settlement, or ISDS, it is a provision written into a vast network of treaties that govern international trade and investment, including NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Congress must soon decide whether to ratify. An 18-month investigation, spanning three continents and involving more than 200 interviews and tens of thousands of documents, many of them previously confidential, has exposed an obscure but immensely consequential feature of these trade treaties, the secret operations of these tribunals, and the ways that business has co-opted them to bring sovereign nations to heel. This article, the first of a series, explores four different aspects of ISDS. It documents how the mere threat of an ISDS case can intimidate a nation into gutting its own laws, how some financial firms have transformed what was intended to be a system of justice into an engine of profit, and how America is surprisingly vulnerable to suits from foreign companies. ISDS is basically binding arbitration on a global scale, designed to settle disputes between countries and foreign companies that do business within their borders. Different treaties can mandate slightly different rules, but the system is broadly the same. When companies sue, their cases are usually heard in front of a tribunal of three arbitrators, often private attorneys. The business appoints one arbitrator and the country another, then both sides usually decide on the third together. Conceived of in the 1950s, the system was intended to benefit both developing nations and the foreign companies that sought to invest in them. The companies would gain a fair, neutral referee if a rogue regime seized their property or discriminated against them in favor of domestic companies. And the countries would gain the development that those foreign corporations would, as a result, feel confident building. But over the last two decades, ISDS has morphed from a rarely used last resort, designed for egregious cases of state theft or blatant discrimination, into a powerful tool that corporations brandish ever more frequently, often against broad public policies that they claim crimp profits. Because the system is so secretive, it is not possible to know the total number of ISDS cases, but lawyers in the field say it is skyrocketing. Indeed, of the almost 700 publicly known cases across the last half century, more than a tenth were filed just last year. (Editor’s note: We strongly recommend this article for understanding how the legal interface between nations and multi-national corporations is evolving.)
“Site Violet”: How Lithuania Helped Run a Secret CIA Prison – (Nation of Change – October 12, 2016)
Secret documents prove that Lithuania helped the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) set up and run a “black site” for detention of al Qaeda suspects, say lawyers. The documents disclose inside details of assistance provided by the Lithuanian State Security Department (SSD) to the CIA. They take the form of dozens of pages of interview summaries gathered during a 2010 investigation by the Lithuanian state prosecutor which looked at allegations state officials had helped US agents set up a secret prison. The cache, which has been secret up until now, forms part of several hundred pages of material disclosed by the Lithuanian government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) last year. The prosecutor’s investigation concluded there were no grounds to charge any Lithuanian officials. But lawyers say that by cross-referencing the information given in the interviews with details from a US Senate report and other declassified US government documents, it is possible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Lithuania actively assisted the CIA. Lithuanian officials are quoted in the documents describing how the CIA had asked them to arrange “temporary accommodation or protection” for “confidential informers” or “secret collaborators.” They were also asked to facilitate their “transfer” or “extradition” to Lithuania. After a small building was earmarked for this purpose, but not used, the SSD helped the CIA purchase a larger site in 2004. No government file was opened for this site, according to Lithuanian officials. No paper records were kept of anything happening there, and everything at the site was paid for by the US. The article includes a link to the full document from the Republic of Lithuania to the European Court of Human Rights.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Robot Can Keep Children Occupied for Hours without Supervision – (Guardian – September 29, 2016)
The 3ft tall iPal has wide eyes, working fingers, pastel trimming, and a touchscreen tablet on its chest. It can sing, dance, and play rock paper scissors. It can talk with children, answer questions like “Why is the sun hot?”, and provide surveillance/video chat for absent parents. “It’s a robot for children,” said Avatar Mind founder Jiping Wang. “It’s mainly for companionship.” The iPal, he boasted, could keep children aged three to eight occupied for “a couple of hours” without adult supervision. It is perfect for the time when children arrive home from school a few hours before their parents get off work, he said. The iPal takes the debate over the automation of human jobs to the next level. The ethics of how robots should interact with children is necessarily more fraught than the ethics of robots in the workforce. Childcare has rarely, if ever, been a particularly well-remunerated or respected job, but it is essential. If children are raised by robots – even just for “a couple of hours” a day – what are the consequences? When asked about the dangers involved with creating a robot that could be used in place of a human caretaker, Madeline Duva, an adviser to AvatarMind, said, “That’s a good question. We don’t have an answer to that. A lot of parents hand an iPad to kids to keep them quiet. This is more interactive.” The iPal is already in production in China, Wang said, and will be available to consumers by the end of the year. He hopes to start selling in the United States next year. The robot has been tested in China, he said, where most of the children can’t get enough of it. Wang said that “80% love it, 15% have no reaction, 5% are scared.”
Toyota Unveils Kirobo Mini, a Robot Baby Intended to Make Lonely People More Happy – (Independent – October 3, 2016)
Toyota’s Kirobo Mini is meant to help provide a companion. It looks like a baby – and could even serve that purpose for people in Japan, where it will be sold and where falling birth rates mean there are fewer and fewer children. The little robot is four inches tall, speaks like a baby and will cost £300 when it goes on sale. It is a small version of the original Kirobo robot – which had a lot more capabilities and was sent into space in 2013. The company said explicitly that this time the robot had been made purely to help with the emotions of the people who own it. “Toyota has been making cars that have a lot of valuable uses,” said Fuminori Kataoka, the general manager who looks after the project. “But this time we’re just pushing emotional value.” “He wobbles a bit, and this is meant to emulate a seated baby, which hasn’t fully developed the skills to balance itself,” Mr Kataoka said. “This vulnerability is meant to invoke an emotional connection.” The little robot includes a camera, microphone and a Bluetooth connection. It uses that to connect to the smartphone that makes it work, alongside a small subscription fee. The Kirobo Mini joins a growing market for companion robots. Those companions are just one way for companies and authorities to get people more familiar with robots in general – which are likely to become a central part of Japan’s economy, as birth rates drop and immigration is discouraged, meaning that automated workers might have to take up some of the slack.
Like. Flirt. Ghost: A Journey Into the Social Media Lives of Teens – (Wired – August 28, 2016)
For teenagers these days, social media is real life, with its own arcane rules and etiquette. Writer Mary H. K. Choi embedded with five high school students to chronicle their digital experiences. There’s twin sisters Lara and Sofia in Atherton, California; Ahmad in New Haven, Connecticut; Mira in San Francisco; and Ubakum in Houston. Ask any teen how to use social media—what those rules are—and they won’t be able to tell you a thing. But ask them targeted questions and they’ll break down a palimpsest of etiquette in rote, exhaustive detail: the moon emoji (indicates awkwardness), screengrabbing Snapchat messages (don’t do it), and Instagram selfie saturation points (no back-to-backs). To them the rules are a birthright. To most of us adults, they’re as mysterious as the flight patterns of bees. (Editor’s note: This article is a fascinating glimpse into a world that most of us barely guess at. And if you’d like still more, see The Teenager’s Definitive Guide to Social Media Don’ts.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
New Moon Craters Are Appearing Faster Than Thought – (Space – October 12, 2016)
New craters are forming on the surface of the moon more frequently than scientists had predicted, a new study has found. The discovery raises concerns about future moon missions, which may face an increased risk of being hit by falling space rocks. The moon is dotted with a vast number of craters, some billions of years old. Because the moon has no atmosphere, falling space rocks don’t burn up like they do on Earth, which leaves the moon’s surface vulnerable to a constant stream of cosmic impacts that gradually churn the top layer of material on its surface. To find out more about the present lunar crater formation rate, a group of scientists analyzed more than 14,000 pairs of before-and-after images of the moon’s surface, taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). These images covered 6.6 % of the lunar surface — about 960,000 square miles — and could reveal when a spot was crater-free and when it later had a crater. The time gaps between observations spanned between 176 and 1,241 Earth days. The researchers discovered 222 craters on the moon that appeared on the surface after the first LRO images were taken — that is 33% more than predicted by current models. These were at least 32 feet across, and ranged up to about 140 feet wide. The scientists also found broad zones around these new craters that they interpreted as the remains of jets of debris following impacts. They estimated this secondary cratering process is churning the top 0.8 inches (2 centimeters) of lunar dirt, or regolith, across the entire lunar surface more than 100 times faster than thought.
Want to Go to Mars? Be Prepared for Irreversible Damage to Your Brain – (Quartz – October 13, 2016)
Just in the last few weeks: Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, laid out his plans to sell tickets to the red planet for $200,000; Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing, vowed to get there before Musk; and President Obama reiterated his plans to send humans to Mars by 2030. Before these fantasies become reality, there are many problems to overcome. One of them is how to stop astronauts from suffering irreversible damage to brain functions that are crucial to completing a space mission. This damage is predicted to be caused by space radiation. When we’re on Earth, the planet’s magnetic field shields us from most of it. A spacecraft’s hull can’t provide that level of protection. The result, a 2015 study predicted, would be brain damage that would affect astronauts’ cognitive powers. The study was done on mice exposed to a space-equivalent dose of radiation in the form of charged oxygen and titanium particles. In the study, researchers found that the prefrontal cortex of the mice, which is the area of the brain responsible for making decisions and moderating social behavior, had fewer neural connections than the brains of mice who weren’t exposed. The irradiated mice were more anxious, weren’t able to control fear, and had reduced cognitive powers. Worse still, this brain damage lasted at least 24 weeks with no apparent sign of improvement. The implication is that it was probably irreversible. It’s worth noting that the dose of radiation used in the study (about 210 milliSieverts, equivalent to about 600 chest X-rays) is smaller than the 300 milliSieverts that NASA estimates humans would be exposed to during just the first six months of a mission to Mars.
‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent – (Consortium News – October 14, 2016)
Raul Ilargi Meijer, the long-standing economics commentator, has written both succinctly – and provocatively: “It’s over! The entire model our societies have been based on for at least as long as we ourselves have lived, is over! That’s why there’s Trump. There is no growth. There hasn’t been any real growth for years. All there is left are empty hollow sunshiny S&P stock market numbers propped up with ultra-cheap debt and buybacks, and employment figures that hide untold millions hiding from the labor force. And most of all there’s debt, public as well as private, that has served to keep an illusion of growth alive and now increasingly no longer can.” Of course Raul Ilargi is talking “aggregate” (and there will be instances of growth within any contraction). But what is clear is that debt-driven investment and low-interest-rate policies are having less and less effect – or no effect at all – in producing growth – either in terms of domestic or trade growth. Stephen Hadley, the former U.S. National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush, warning plainly that foreign-policy experts rather should pay careful attention to the growing public anger: that “globalization was a mistake” and that “the elites have sleep-walked the [U.S.] into danger.” Stiglitz tells us that this has been evident for the past 15 years — he noted that he had warned then of: “growing opposition in the developing world to globalizing reforms: It seemed a mystery: people in developing countries had been told that globalization would increase overall wellbeing. So why had so many people become so hostile to it? How can something that our political leaders – and many an economist – said would make everyone better off, be so reviled? This “new” discontent, Stiglitz now says, is extended into advanced economies. Perhaps this is what Hadley means when he says, “globalization was a mistake.” It is now threatening American financial hegemony, and therefore its political hegemony too.
Why Do We Kill? Controversial Study Blames Our Distant Ancestors – (Science – September 28, 2016)
Human bloodlust—from war to murder—traces back millions of years to our primate ancestors. That’s the conclusion of a controversial new study, which reaches far back into our family tree to uncover the evolutionary roots of lethal violence among more than 1000 mammalian species. Humans are far from the only species that kills its own. Murder has been observed in animals ranging from chimpanzees to wolves to marmots, a type of oversized squirrel. José Maria Gómez, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Granada and the Spanish National Research Council’s campus in Almería, wondered whether each species had developed its capacity for lethal violence on its own, or whether the tendency had been passed down from their evolutionary ancestors. So for 2 years, he and his team scoured decades of scientific research to create a database of how 1024 species of mammals die, including what proportion of each one was killed by other members of its own species. Animals that live in groups and defend territories, such as wolves and chimps, tend to be more violent. Both violence and nonviolence tended to clump along certain branches of the mammalian family tree. Statistically, the more violent your close relatives are, the more violent your species is likely to be. That association meant that Gómez and his colleagues could use their extensive database to predict a given species’ rate of lethal violence—and that’s what they did for humans.
Columbus Day: Black Legend Meets White City – (The Conversation – October 10, 2016)
The story of Christopher Columbus, as with all legends, involves a series of great successes and horrible failures. Columbus believed he was personally chosen by God and that no one else could achieve his mission. His stated goal was to accumulate enough wealth to recapture Jerusalem. However his personal shortcomings led to his downfall. In 1496, he became governor of the colony based at Santo Domingo, in modern Dominican Republic – a job he hated. He could not convince the other colonists, especially those with noble titles, to follow his leadership. One reason may have been that he was an incompetent administrator and, ultimately, the colony was largely a social and economic failure. This article goes on to present a well researched and interesting history of when, why, and how the legend of a “son of simple wool weavers and someone who had a great dream, challenged the greatest scholars of his day, and boldly went where no man had gone before” was created out of a few distorted facts.
Texas State Prisons: You Can’t Read The Color Purple but Mein Kampf Is Fine – (Houston Press – September 28, 2016)
In 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court concluded prisons could only censor publications when the decision is tied to prison issues (such as the potential for starting a riot or making a weapon) and when the reasoning behind the censorship is “legitimate and neutral.” Anything else violates the First Amendment rights of the publishers and the prisoners, as the Texas Civil Rights Project noted in its report on Texas Department of Criminal Justice banned books published in 2011. In Texas, the guidelines are pretty simple: prisoners can only receive books from publishers or bookstores, to prevent people smuggling other illicit items in with the books. Books that “contain contraband”, that tell people how to make weapons, drugs or explosives, that are written to incite a prison riot or have sexually explicit images may be kept out of state prisons. These rules sound reasonable enough, but in practice, they’re so loose that Texas has ended up with a very long list of books that are not allowed in its prison system. Gustave Flaubert, Tom Wolfe, Langston Hughes, Gore Vidal, Flannery O’Connor, Sinclair Lewis and Thomas More are all on the “no fly” reading list. The books are reviewed by prison mail clerks and if a book is not on a master list of approved reading material, the mail clerk looks the book over and decides, based on the aforementioned guidelines, whether it should be given to the prisoner or not. If the clerk decides not to send the book through, the prisoner can appeal to the Director’s Review Committee. Should the board sign off on the book, it goes on the approved reading list. If they don’t, the book is banned to all state prisoners — there are more than 140,000 of them in Texas — permanently. For example, prisoners can’t read Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, but they can get copies of Mein Kampf. When the Texas Civil Rights Project study came out in 2011, there were about 11,800 books on the list. Now, there are more than 15,000 books that state prisoners are not allowed to read.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Discoveries May Rewrite History of China’s Terra-Cotta Warriors – (National Geographic – October 12, 2016)
In the four decades since mysterious terra-cotta statues first came to light in northern China, archaeologists have uncovered a whole lifelike army. But that wasn’t the only secret hidden underground there. Stunning revelations are now rewriting the history of the great ruler who created this army as part of his final resting place. And a radical new theory even suggests that foreign artists trained his craftsmen. Known today as the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di left a legacy that would make him a towering figure in Chinese history. By the time he died in 210 B.C., he had united warring kingdoms into one country, put an end to feudalism, and built the Great Wall that endures today as a monument to his power. Scientists using remote sensing, ground-penetrating radar, and core sampling have also revealed the emperor’s tomb complex to be much larger than once believed—almost 38 square miles. At its heart stands a tall earthen mound that covers the ruler’s tomb which remains sealed, awaiting the discovery of new conservation technologies which would make it possible to open it without almost certainly destroying fragile artifacts. Many other people were also buried at the site. Archaeologists have discovered mass graves that appear to hold the remains of the craftsmen and laborers—including convicted criminals in chains—who died during the three decades it took to create the royal mausoleum. Other mass burials seem to tell grisly tales of a brutal struggle to capture the emperor’s throne.
JUST FOR FUN
ReflexLOLogy: Inside the Groan-Inducing World of Pun Competitions – (Wired – September 29, 2016)
The rules of the 39th annual O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship’s “Punslingers” competition are simple: Two people take turns punning on a theme in head-to-head rounds. Failure to make a pun in the five seconds allowed gets you eliminated; make a nonpun or reuse a word three times and you’ve reached the banishing point. Round by round and pair by pair, a field of 32 dwindles until the last of the halved-nots finally gets to claim the mantle of best punster in the world and what most people would agree are some pretty dubious bragging rights. “I can’t listen passively to someone speaking without the possibility of puns echoing around in my head,” says Gary Hallock, who has been producing and hosting the O. Henry Pun-Off for 26 years. He’s seen the annual event grow from an Austin oddity to a national event and watched dad jokes, of which puns are the most obvious example, take hold in the millennial consciousness; a dad-joke-devoted Reddit board boasts more than 250,000 members. “I’ve often compared punsters to linguistic terrorists,” Hallock says. “We’re literally stalking conversations, looking for the weak place to plant our bomb.” For a sample of best-in-class groaners, check out this article.
A FINAL QUOTE
The vast possibilities of our great future will become realities only if we make ourselves responsible for that future. — Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), first Chief of the United States Forest Service.
A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy, Michael Weiner 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
A Vision for 2012: Planning for Extraordinary Change
by John L. Petersen
Former senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart has said “It should be required reading for the next President.”
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