FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- A newly discovered microbe just revealed a whole new branch in the tree of life.
- Scientists have developed a liquid that can store the Sun’s energy for up to 18 years.
- Epigenetic analysis will never get good enough to forecast an exact date or time of death, but insurance companies are already finding it useful, as are hospitals and palliative care teams.
- Pedestrian deaths are at a three-decade high due to walkers who are distracted from oncoming vehicles because they are using their smartphones.
by John L. Petersen
Help Keep FUTUREdition Coming!
Twice a month we send you our free newsletter, FUTUREdition, which scans the horizon for incoming events and ideas that help to inform you about this most significant shift in human history that we’re experiencing.
Many readers say FE is one of the most informative missives that they receive about what’s inbound. We try to be honest, original and unencumbered by conventional wisdom because we know that the emerging new world will not act or look like the present one. That’s why we all must be open to the new ideas and ways of thinking that begin to outline this emergent new era.
John L. Petersen
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Timeline — The Next 10 Years: An Overview of the Biggest Change in History
Futurist John Petersen at Berkeley Springs Transition Talks – Dec. 15th
It is becoming clear that we are fast into the biggest, most rapid shift in the history of humanity. NASA says the sun is cooling like never before. Political systems are collapsing. The global financial system is being redesigned. Extraordinary technologies are aborning . . . and major players on the internet are seriously threatened. In the middle of it all, it’s hard to know for sure what’s real . . . with all of the fake information that is in the air.
But, interestingly, an outline is emerging of both the possible new world and the sequence of events lining up for the next decade. And it’s pretty amazing . . . and disruptive.
The good part is that once the general shape comes into focus, the way forward for preparing for the shift also begin to solidify. If you don’t know about an incoming event – you won’t prepare for it. In this case, the forces of change are immense . . . and the need to rise to the occasion are profound.
I’m a futurist and I’ve been researching a great deal of new information of this shift and will be talking about it at TransitionTalks in Berkeley Springs on the 15th of December.
Here’s what I have been thinking about:
Get complete details at TransitionTalks.org.
We recently had Dr. Paul Smith at Berkeley Springs Transition Talks. Here’s a PostScript interview with him:
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|Our e-Magazine has complete information on our TransitionTalks series with articles from past speakers
Gregg Braden, Joe Dispenza & Bruce Lipton:
New Energy: The Linchpin to Unprecedented Change and the Emergence of a New Era by John Petersen
1 hour and 10-minute presentation by John Petersen on downloadable digital video:
This is a dynamic presentation showing you the path that mankind is on and how a new human being is emerging.
Get the complete details here.
The City of the Future Is a Data-Collection Machine – (Atlantic – November, 2018)
The smart city is coming: Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is building one “from the internet up,” with help from a series of private-public real-estate partnerships in the downtown Toronto neighborhood of Quayside. It is not the first smart city—municipalities around the world have adopted smart infrastructure like artificial-intelligence-enabled traffic lights—but it might be the most ambitious. The project’s 200-page wish list of features is astounding. The “vision document” imagines not only the revitalization of a 12-acre plot that has sat largely vacant since its heyday as an industrial port, but its transformation into a micro-city outfitted with smart technologies that will use data to disrupt everything from traffic congestion to health care, housing, zoning regulations, and greenhouse-gas emissions. Long before flying cars, smart sensors won’t just be in our mattresses or our bidets, they’ll be embedded in the walls of our homes and the concrete beneath our feet. But all those data require mechanisms to collect them, and the march to an “always on” city has drawn an onslaught of accusations against Sidewalk Labs and its real-estate partner, Waterfront Toronto, for dismissing privacy concerns and misinforming residents. In the past month, four people have resigned from Waterfront Toronto’s and Sidewalk Labs’ advisory board over concerns about privacy and lack of public input. “People have to know that privacy is the default,” said Ann Cavoukian, who served for 16 years as the Ontario information-and-privacy commissioner and who is a professor at Ryerson University, where she leads the Privacy by Design Center for Excellence. “Meaning, they don’t have to ask for privacy; we’re giving it to you automatically.” Cavoukian was an adviser on the Quayside project, but she resigned after Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk refused to unilaterally ban participating companies from collecting non-anonymous user data. The city is literally built to collect data about its residents and visitors, which Cavoukian was clear-eyed about when she signed on to be an adviser. What she’s worried about is Sidewalk using all these cameras and sensors to track people on an individual level, to create real-life versions of the personal profiles Google already uses to track people online. Without anonymization, she said, a single person’s activities could be connected across multiple sources and varying databases to track his movements over the course of the day.
Surgery Students Losing Dexterity to Stitch Patients – (BBC News – October 30, 2018)
Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College, London, says medical students have spent so much time in front of screens and so little time using their hands that they have lost the dexterity for stitching or sewing up patients. Prof. Kneebone says he has seen a decline in the manual dexterity of students over the past decade – which he says is a problem for surgeons, who need craftsmanship as well as academic knowledge. “A lot of things are reduced to swiping on a two-dimensional flat screen,” he says, which he argues takes away the experience of handling materials and developing physical skills. Students have become “less competent and less confident” in using their hands, he says. “We have students who have very high exam grades but lack tactile general knowledge,” says the professor.
Startling Microbe Discovery Just Revealed a Whole New Branch of Our Tree of Life – (Science Alert – November 15, 2018)
Microscopic organisms found in dirt collected from a hike through Nova Scotia mean we’re going to have to add another branch to the tree of life. The strange organisms simply don’t fit into the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom, or any other kingdom we’ve classified up until now. The tiny critters in question represent two species of the group of microbes called hemimastigotes, and based on a detailed genetic analysis, one of them has never been spotted before. According to the team of researchers from Dalhousie University in Canada, the two species are eukaryotes (with complex cells, like humans), and protists (outside the animal, plant, and fungi kingdoms). But they don’t fit the patterns of the existing 10 kingdoms that make up the Eukaryota domain. “This discovery literally redraws our branch of the tree of life at one of its deepest points,” says one of the researchers, Alastair Simpson. “It opens a new door to understanding the evolution of complex cells – and their ancient origins – back well before animals and plants emerged on Earth.” This microbe looks and acts like a miniature ogre, the researchers say, in the way it traps and eats food. The first hemimastigote was identified in the 19th century, but before now scientists haven’t been able to do a detailed genetic analysis on these microbes. They have always been something of a mystery when it comes to classification. With the help of a relatively new gene sequencing technique called single-cell transcriptonomics – which can glean the same amount of data from a handful of cells as other techniques can from millions – the team was able to confirm that these organisms don’t fall into the tree of life branches already identified by scientists. In fact they’re more different from other organisms than animals and fungi are from each other. To find a common ancestor between hemimastigotes and any other living creature you would have to go back about a billion years, the researchers suggest.
The Worst Year to Be a Human Has Been Revealed by Researchers – (CNN – November 20, 2018)
A team of historians and scientists has identified A.D. 536 as the beginning of a terrible sequence of events for humankind. A massive volcanic eruption spewed a huge cloud of ash that shrouded the Northern Hemisphere in darkness and caused a drop in temperatures that led to crop failure and starvation, said co-lead study author Professor Christopher Loveluck of the University of Nottingham in the UK. Then the misery was compounded in A.D. 542 as cold and hungry populations in the eastern Roman Empire were struck by the bubonic plague. Now, in collaboration with glaciologist Paul Mayewski at the Climate Change Institute of the University of Maine in Orono, Loveluck’s team has identified the source of the ash cloud. By analyzing ice samples from the Colle Gnifetti Glacier in the Swiss Alps, the researchers were able to identify atmospheric pollutants deposited over the past 2,000 years, according to the study. Substances found in the ice provide evidence that the eruption took place in Iceland, not California, as suggested by previous research. (Editor’s note: Everyone has always “lived in interesting times.” But some are more interesting than others.)
We Finally Know How Wombats Produce Their Distinctly Cube-Shaped Poop – (GizModo – November 18, 2018)
Wombats are kind of obsessed with their own poop. These Australian marsupials can drop anywhere from four to eight pieces of dung, each measuring about 2 centimeters across, during a single excretion session. More impressive, however, is the cubic shape of their poo. During the course one evening, these nocturnal creatures can produce 80 to 100 cubes of poop, which they then collect and strategically place around their domain. This scatological behavior serves at least two purposes: the poop is used to mark the wombat’s territory and to, ahem, attract mates (don’t judge). The curiously geometrical dimensions improves stackability and prevents the poop from rolling away. The wombats’ cubic poop, therefore, is an evolutionary adaptation, and not just some irrelevant side-effect of biology. But just how the wombat’s body is able to create this cubic poop hasn’t been understood. Patricia Yang, a postdoctoral fellow in mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, recently conducted an investigation on the matter. Yang is an expert in the hydrodynamics of bodily fluids, such as digested food, blood, and urine. Yang’s investigation sought to understand how wombats—the only animal known to drop cubic poop—are capable of the digestive feat, and to determine which aspects of their physiology are responsible. Interestingly, this study has implications outside of biology. “Molding and cutting are current technologies to manufacture cubes,” Yang told Gizmodo. “But wombats have the third way. They form cubical feces by the properties of intestines.” Indeed, this digestive technique, the authors argue, could be applied to mechanical engineering. The discovery could also be applied to medicine, such as the treatment of gastrointestinal problems. “We can learn from wombats and hopefully apply this novel method to our manufacturing process,” Yang said. The realms of biomimicry seem to know no bounds.
GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY
Lab-Grown Mini Kidneys ‘Go Rogue,’ Sprout Brain and Muscle Cells – (Live Science – November 16, 2018)
Growing a mini kidney takes about four weeks, said study co-author Benjamin Humphreys, chief of the Division of Nephrology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. To grow them, stem cells are bathed in a chemical cocktail that nurtures their growth into a range of kidney cells. However, instead of developing into different varieties of kidney cells, some of the cells took a different path and became brain and muscle cells. These simple mini kidneys — also known as kidney organoids — are grown from stem cells that are encouraged to develop into clusters of specific kidney cells. But it turns out that the “recipes” that encourage the development of specialized kidney cells were also cranking out cells from other organs, according to a new study. Researchers discovered that 10% -20% of the organoids’ cells were not kidney cells at all, but brain and muscle cells. “We call these ‘off-target’ cells,” Humphreys said. The appearance of these cells can spell trouble for researchers who use kidney organoids to model diseases, “because when off-target cells appear in an organoid, it means that it doesn’t faithfully model a human kidney,” he said. Genetic data from the mini kidneys delivered another surprise: the kidney cells in the organoids were immature, presenting another potential drawback in using organoids to model diseases, Humphreys said. (The researchers had expected the cells to be mature in four weeks.) What’s more, incubating the organoids for longer didn’t produce more mature kidney cells; rather, it encouraged the growth of more rogue cells, according to the study.
New Alzheimer’s Vaccine Could Reduce Dementia Cases by Half – (KOMO News – November 23, 2018)
In mice, an experimental vaccine has reduced the accumulation of two types of toxic proteins believed to be a cause of Alzheimer’s, without any adverse effects such as brain swelling. The decade-long study was conducted by The University of Texas Southwestern’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute. “If the onset of the disease could be delayed by even five years, that would be enormous for the patients and their families. The number of dementia cases could drop by half.” said Dr. Doris Lambracht-Washington, the study’s senior author.” (Editor’s note: During the additional five years of lifespan, many elderly people would die of other causes.) The skin-delivered vaccine activates an immune response which reduces build-up of harmful tau and beta-amyloids. So far, it has been safely tested in three mammals and that could soon pave the way to clinical trials. The new study says the vaccine may be most effective in patients with high levels of “tau and amyloid stored in the brain,” but before the patient has fully developed Alzheimer’s. See also: Never-before-seen DNA recombination in the brain linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
NASA Warns Long Cold Winter Could Hit Space in Months Bringing Record Low Temperatures – (Fox News – November 17, 2018)
A long cold winter could hit space in months bringing record low temperatures, NASA has warned. “We see a cooling trend,” says Martin Mlynczak of NASA’s Langley Research Center. “High above Earth’s surface, near the edge of space, our atmosphere is losing heat energy. If current trends continue, it could soon set a Space Age record for cold.” Solar minimum can enhance the effects of space weather, disrupt communications and navigation, and even cause space junk to “hang around”, NASA said. Mlynczak and his colleagues have recently introduced the “Thermosphere Climate Index” (TCI), which measure how much heat nitric oxide (NO) molecules are dumping into space. The results come from the SABER instrument onboard NASA’s TIMED satellite, that monitor infrared emissions from carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitric oxide (NO). By measuring the infrared glow of these molecules, SABER can assess the thermal state of gas at the very top of the atmosphere – a layer researchers call “the thermosphere.” When the thermosphere cools, it shrinks, making the radius of the Earth’s atmosphere smaller. “SABER is currently measuring 33 billion Watts of infrared power from NO. That’s 10 times smaller than we see during more active phases of the solar cycle. The thermosphere always cools off during Solar Minimum. It’s one of the most important ways the solar cycle affects our planet,” explains Mlynczak. “We’re not there quite yet,” he said of the record cold, “but it could happen in a matter of months.”
Massive Solar Storm Detonated Hidden American Bombs during the Vietnam War, Navy Records Show – (Live Science – November 12, 2018)
“Space weather” is a collective term for the various energetic gobbets the sun periodically, unpredictably spews in our general direction. Based on old Navy records, researchers realized that a famous 1972 solar storm was even more serious than they had assumed. “Between 2 and 4 August 1972 [a sunspot] produced a series of brilliant flares, energetic particle enhancements and Earth-directed ejecta,” they wrote. Those flares cleared the path for “the subsequent ultra-fast… shock… that reached Earth in record time — 14.6 hours.” “Dayside radio blackouts… developed within minutes. X-ray emissions from the long-duration flare remained [high] for [more than] 16 hours. For the first time, a space-based detector observed gamma-rays during this solar flare. [Experts] rated the flare at Comprehensive Flare Index level 17 — the highest level, and one assigned to only the most extreme and broad-spectrum flares,” they wrote, adding that “‘spectacular aurora,’ bright enough to cast shadows, appeared along the southern coast of the United Kingdom.” Researchers later found that the flare caused damage to solar panels on satellites in space, a defense communications satellite “suffered a mission-ending on orbit power failure;” and Air Force sensors switched on, suggesting falsely that a nuclear bomb had detonated somewhere on the planet. Amid all that drama, space weather researchers had largely ignored another consequence of the storm: “the sudden detonation of a ‘large number’ of US Navy… sea mines [that had been] dropped into the coastal waters of North Vietnam only three months earlier.” Pilots flying over the area spotted about two dozen explosions in a minefield in just a 30-second period, the researchers wrote. Naval researchers investigated, and they ultimately concluded the blasts were the result of the solar storm triggering magnetic sensors in the mines that had been primed to detect passing metal ships. The Navy rapidly researched alternatives to the magnetic sensor mines that would be more resistant to solar effects.
Here’s What People Are Really Doing with Their Alexa and Google Home assistants – (Venture Beat – November 17, 2018)
Here are the results of a survey to see if, or how, user behaviors and feelings towards the devices may have changed. We also dove deeper into some of the interests based on demographics. The survey, conducted by Dashbot using Survata, covered 1,019 Alexa and Google Home owners across the U.S. Approximately 64% of men and 53% of women use their devices multiple times a day. Among people who use their devices the least (less than once a month), women tend to predominate at 7% compared to just 1.4% of men. More than 65% of respondents indicated the devices have changed their behaviors or daily routines. About a quarter felt the device has changed their behavior a lot, whereas 40.5% thought it has at least a little bit. Only 19%said the device has not changed their behavior. Men tend to report more behavior changes than women. Nearly 33% of men answered “yes, it has a lot” compared to 20% of women. (Editor’s note: Given that more than 50% of owners are using their devices multiple times/day, but only a quarter of owners feel it has changed their behavior, we suspect the phrase “changed their behavior” may not have been defined by the survey questions. We would suggest that using something multiple times/day IS a change of behavior.) Listening to music, checking weather, and asking for information, are the most common use cases. They’re also core functionality of the devices. Using specific third-party skills is less common. If you are a heavy Alexa or Google Home user, how often have you caught yourself about to talk to the device when away from home — at work or in a hotel room while traveling? Amazon and Google are working on this though through their business initiatives to provide devices in hotels and other locations.
France Is Ditching Google to Reclaim Its Online Independence – (Wired – November 20, 2018)
France is working hard to avoid becoming a digital colony of the US or China. Last month, both the French National Assembly and the French Army Ministry declared that their digital devices would stop using Google as their default search engines. Instead, they will use Qwant, a French and German search engine that prides itself for not tracking its users. These days, hearing French politicians taking a bellicose stance on technology is becoming increasingly frequent. Just days before the Qwant decision, France’s secretary of state for digital affairs, Mounir Mahjoubi, had thundered against the United States’ Cloud Act, a new law that would allow the US to access data stored on American companies’ clouds wherever they are located in the world. He said France was already preparing a response with other European states to “weigh in” on the issue. Although relatively novel, the concept of “digital sovereignty” can be roughly summarised as a country’s push to regain control over their own and their citizens’ data. On the military side, it includes the ability for a state to develop cybersecurity offensive and defensive capabilities without relying on foreign-made technology; on the economic side, it encompasses issues spanning from taxation of big tech to the creation of homegrown startups. Artificial intelligence is considered the next battlefield for sovereignty since data is critical to its development. China and the US have already understood what’s at stake.
Camera-Smartphone Combo Curbs Distracted Walking – (Wards Auto – October 9, 2018)
With pedestrian deaths at a three-decade high, Purdue University researchers are looking at a new way to alert walkers who are distracted from oncoming vehicles because they are using their smartphones. “We have created an innovative system to use those same phones to help save lives,” says He Wang, an assistant professor in the Indiana university’s Department of Computer Science who created the technology with doctoral student Siyuan Cao. The Governors Highway Safety Assn. reports 5,984 pedestrians were killed in the U.S. in 2017 – a 33-year high – while other kinds of traffic deaths declined. The Purdue team’s system, called Phade, uses surveillance or other cameras in public places to send an alert directly to a smartphone. Although traditional data-transmission protocols need to first learn the destination’s IP or MAC address, the Purdue system uses motion patterns as the address code for communication. The smartphones then locally make their own decisions on whether to accept a message. “This system basically allows surveillance cameras to talk to the public through their individual phones,” Cao says. “The camera can send an almost instant alert to a pedestrian that a car is coming.” The pedestrian’s phone receives a message that reads: Danger! Oncoming vehicle. For more technical details and discussion of considerable privacy concerns, see: Surveillance cameras can identify everyone by “talking to their cellphones”.
Plasticiet Produces Terrazzo-like Material from Recycled Plastic – (Dezeen – November 23, 2018)
Based in Rotterdam, Dutch startup Plasticiet aims to create “something of value” from recycled plastic for use in interior and furniture design. Using recycled plastic collected and processed in collaboration with recycling companies across the Netherlands, Plasticiet produces sheet-plastic materials that are similar in appearance to manmade stone composites like terrazzo. The idea for the company began in 2016 after a field trip to Mumbai, where the founders saw a cottage industry emerging from the rescue of plastic waste. They began developing the product by hand, using a toaster iron to melt different pieces of recycled plastic together.”Inspired by the rough features and patterns of marble and granite we create something that is beautiful and durable that represents the way we should perceive plastics: as the incredible and precious material it actually is,” the designers said. “There has been a lot of talk about plastic reuse, but [not many] projects that actually physically do it and provide a recycled material to others. We would love to cooperate with a massive company such as IKEA for example, that is able to reach a lot of people and has a large offset. Recycling plastic should not be something special.” IKEA is among the companies that have recently pledged to move away from single-use plastics. In February, a number of designers predicted to Dezeen that recycled plastic “will soon be the only choice” for products.
A Solar Cell That Does Double Duty for Renewable Energy – (Science Daily – October 29, 2018)
In the quest for abundant, renewable alternatives to fossil fuels, scientists have sought to harvest the sun’s energy through “water splitting,” an artificial photosynthesis technique that uses sunlight to generate hydrogen fuel from water. But water-splitting devices have yet to live up to their potential because there still isn’t a design for materials with the right mix of optical, electronic, and chemical properties needed for them to work efficiently. Now researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), a DOE Energy Innovation Hub, have come up with a new recipe for renewable fuels that could bypass the limitations in current materials: an artificial photosynthesis device called a “hybrid photoelectrochemical and voltaic (HPEV) cell” that turns sunlight and water into not just one, but two types of energy — hydrogen fuel and electricity. In water-splitting devices, the front surface is usually dedicated to solar fuels production, and the back surface serves as an electrical outlet. To work around the limitations of conventional systems, they added an additional electrical contact to the silicon component’s back surface, resulting in an HPEV device with two contacts in the back instead of just one. The extra back outlet would allow the current to be split into two, so that one part of the current contributes to solar fuels generation, and the rest can be extracted as electrical power. According to their calculations, 6.8% of the solar energy can be stored as hydrogen fuel in an HPEV cell made of bismuth vanadate and silicon, and another 13.4% of the solar energy can be converted to electricity. This enables a combined efficiency of 20.2%, three times better than conventional solar hydrogen cells.
Scientists Develop Liquid Fuel That Can Store the Sun’s Energy for up to 18 Years – (Science Alert – November 6, 2018)
No matter how abundant or renewable, solar power has a thorn in its side. There is still no cheap and efficient long-term storage for the energy that it generates. The solar industry has been snagged on this branch for a while, but in the past year alone, a series of four papers has ushered in an intriguing new solution. Scientists in Sweden have developed a specialized fluid, called a solar thermal fuel, that can store energy from the sun for well over a decade. “A solar thermal fuel is like a rechargeable battery, but instead of electricity, you put sunlight in and get heat out, triggered on demand,” Jeffrey Grossman, an engineer works with these materials at MIT explained. The fluid is actually a molecule in liquid form that scientists from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden have been working on improving for over a year. This molecule is composed of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen, and when it is hit by sunlight, it does something unusual: the bonds between its atoms are rearranged and it turns into an energized new version of itself, called an isomer. Like prey caught in a trap, energy from the sun is thus captured between the isomer’s strong chemical bonds, and it stays there even when the molecule cools down to room temperature. When the energy is needed – say at nighttime, or during winter – the fluid is simply drawn through a catalyst that returns the molecule to its original form, releasing energy in the form of heat.
China’s Artificial Sun Reaches 100 Million Degrees Celsius Marking Milestone for Nuclear Fusion – (ABC – November 15, 2018)
A team of scientists from China’s Institute of Plasma Physics has announced that plasma in their Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) — dubbed the “artificial sun” — reached a whopping 100 million degrees Celsius, the temperature required to maintain a fusion reaction that produces more power than it takes to run. To put that in perspective, the temperature at the core of the sun is said to be about 15 million degrees Celsius, making the plasma in China’s “artificial sun” more than six times hotter than the original. Associate professor Matthew Hole from the Australian National University said, “It’s certainly a significant step for China’s nuclear fusion program and an important development for the whole world.” He added that developing fusion reactors could be the solution to global energy problems. “The benefit is simple in that it is very large-scale base load [continuous] energy production, with zero greenhouse gas emissions and no long-life radioactive waste. The EAST that pulled off the 100 million Celsius feat stands at 11 meters tall, has a diameter of 8 meters and weighs about 360 tons. It uses a ring to house heavy and super-heavy isotopes — atomic variations — of hydrogen known as deuterium and tritium. The isotopes are heated by powerful electric currents within the tokamak, tearing electrons away from their atoms and forming a charged plasma of hydrogen ions. Powerful magnets lining the inner walls of EAST then contain the plasma to a tiny area to maximize the chance that the ions will fuse together. When the ions fuse they give off a large amount of energy, which can then be harnessed to run a power plant and produce electricity. The Chinese research team said they were able to achieve the record temperature through the use of various new techniques in heating and controlling the plasma, but could only maintain the state for about 10 seconds.
This Self-driving Hotel Room Could Revolutionize Travel – (CNN – November 20, 2018)
Question: What do you get if you cross a hotel room with a self-driving vehicle? Answer: The Autonomous Travel Suite (ATS). A hotel room on wheels, the ATS is the brainchild of Toronto-based Steve Lee of Aprilli Design Studio. Lee says that his hybrid concept, which won this year’s Radical Innovation Award — a design competition for the hospitality industry — combines his experience in hotel design and architecture with his passion for futuristic technology. Designed to carry travelers on journeys of between six and 10 hours, the ATS is equipped with many of the elements found in a traditional hotel room: a sleeping space (with a memory foam mattress), a work space, a tiny kitchen, a toilet, a sitting shower and an “entertainment zone” for watching movies and gaming. It is encased by panoramic smart glass windows that dim at the touch of a button. Travelers will “select the start and end points of their journeys and can add stopping off points such as gyms and restaurants,” says Lee. “The system will work out the best route.” In Lee’s vision, the vehicles will be operated by a chain of “Autonomous Hotels” that provide critical on-the-road services including vehicle maintenance, water provision and waste removal. Travelers can choose to dock their ATS into a static “parent suite” to form an integrated unit offering overnight stays and use of shared amenities such as swimming pools, gyms, restaurants and meeting rooms. Lee is currently talking to automakers about how best to power the ATS. If the suites are electric, they will be supported by service vehicles that replace their batteries when the juice is running low.
An Electric Plane with No Moving Parts Has Made Its First Flight – (Technology Review – November 21, 2018)
MIT researchers report that they have created and flown the first plane that doesn’t require any moving parts. This 5.4-pound experimental aircraft did not spin turbine blades to propel itself 200 feet (the length of a school gym): it used electricity directly. If the technology could be scaled up, it would produce future aircraft that are far safer, quieter, and easier to maintain. Most important, it would eliminate combustion emissions, since the process is powered entirely by battery. The inaugural flight was made possible by a process known as electroaerodynamic propulsion, an idea that has been around since the 1960s. The concept itself is a lot harder to visualize than a typical spinning propeller. It takes advantage of what’s known as ionic wind. Using very high voltages—in the plane’s case, 40,000 volts—the thruster generates ions in the air around two electrodes. The electric field created between these throws the ions from a smaller electrode over to a larger one. These ions collide with normal air molecules while traveling, creating the ionic wind and pushing the plane forward. Since the ions are moving between two stationary electrodes, no moving parts are required to power the plane. When it was conceived of in the 1960s, researchers came to the conclusion that it couldn’t create the level of thrust needed to sustain flight. However, when Steven Barrett, an MIT professor of aeronautics and astronautics, took a closer look at this research in 2009, he saw untapped potential. Nine years—and many failures—later, Barrett and his group finally have a flying plane. Just about—and that’s with the tests taking place inside a wind-free gym and only lasting around 12 seconds. “Although it is still a long way off from commercial gas turbine propulsion … electroaerodynamic propulsion has the potential to be a game-changer for short-range, small-payload drone flights,” says Priyanka Dhopade, a researcher at the Oxford Thermofluids Institute.
Lab-Grown Meat Is Coming to America, FDA and USDA Announce – (Newsweek – November 19, 2018)
Laboratory-grown meat could soon be available, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration announcing that they would oversee its production so it could be safely sold to consumers across the country. A joint statement released by the two agencies said they would be working together to “foster these innovative food products and maintain the highest standards of public health.” The FDA would be in charge of regulating the collection, banking and growing of the cells used to make artificial meat, while the USDA would work on the production and labeling of food products. “A transition from FDA to USDA oversight will occur during the cell harvest stage,” the statement said.“This regulatory framework will leverage both the FDA’s experience regulating cell-culture technology and living biosystems and the USDA’s expertise in regulating livestock and poultry products for human consumption. USDA and FDA are confident that this regulatory framework can be successfully implemented and assure the safety of these products.” In 2013, scientists created the first-ever burger made from cultured meat. Since then funding for artificial meat has skyrocketed, with private companies and high-profile investors making huge strides into its commercial development. Meat is derived from stem cells taken from poultry and livestock that is then turned into muscle tissue. But the regulatory framework for how these products would end up on the plates of consumers has until now been lacking. Brian Spears, from the cultured meat start-up New Age Meats, said: The joint framework allows us to more quickly create safe, high paying jobs in both [research and development] and manufacturing.” (Editor’s note: In other words, yes, lab grown meat is definitely coming – but not immediately.)
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Russia Jammed GPS During Major NATO Military Exercise with US Troops – (CNN – November 14, 2018)
The Russian military jammed GPS signals during a major NATO military exercise in Norway that involved thousands of US and NATO troops, the alliance said, citing the Norwegian government. The NATO exercise, Trident Juncture, involved some 50,000 personnel. It was labeled the alliance’s largest exercise since the Cold War. Non-NATO members Finland and Sweden also participated in the exercise. A spokesperson for the Norwegian ministry of defense acknowledged the jamming to CNN, which it said took place between October 16 and November 7. A US defense official told CNN that the jamming had “little or no affect” on US military assets during the NATO exercise. Asked about the report of Russian jamming, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was aware of the reports but did not offer additional information. “The US is keenly aware cyber-attacks and electronic warfare are being used on and off the battlefield with alarmingly greater frequency and severity. We have experienced this in many areas where we operate, and we have observed the potentially devastating impact such measure could pose to civilian aviation,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Hate Crimes in America Spiked 17% Last Year, FBI Says – (NBC – November 13, 2018)
The FBI reported more than a 17% rise in hate crimes across America, officials said — the third consecutive year the numbers have increased. The annual report showed there were 7,175 bias crimes, which targeted 8,493 victims based on their race and sexual orientation, reported in 2017. There had been 6,121 hate crimes reported in 2016, 5,850 such offenses in 2015 and 5,479 in 2014. The 17.2 percent spike follows increases of 4.6 percent and 6.7 percent in the previous two years. The hate crime totals were comprised of 59.6 percent acts against a victim based on race, 20.6 percent because of religion and 15.8 percent for sexual orientation, the FBI said. Anti-Semitic hate crimes were the most common religious hate crimes in the United States. While the Arab American Institute said the FBI’s report correctly captured the rise in hate crimes, the advocacy group insists local police are still under-reporting bias attacks. For example, the group was particularly incredulous that the Las Vegas Metro Police, serving 1.6 million residents, could report zero hate crimes in 2017. “The FBI data does accurately exhibit a trend, that hate crimes are rising,” said AAI policy analyst Kai Wiggins. “But we have a sense that fewer than 5% of hate crimes actually happening are showing up in FBI data.”
Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex? – (Atlantic – December, 2018)
None of the many experts the author interviewed for this piece seriously challenged the idea that the average young adult circa 2018 is having less sex than his or her counterparts of decades past. But why? In a famous 2007 study, people supplied researchers with 237 distinct reasons for having sex, ranging from mystical (“I wanted to feel closer to God”) to lame (“I wanted to change the topic of conversation”). The number of reasons not to have sex must be at least as high. Still, a handful of suspects came up again and again in the interviews and in the research reviewed—and each has profound implications for our happiness. One recurring theme, predictably enough, was porn. Many of the younger people interviewed for this article see porn as just one more digital activity—a way of relieving stress, a diversion. It is related to their sex life (or lack thereof) in much the same way social media and binge-watching TV are. As one 24-year-old man put it in an email: The internet has made it so easy to gratify basic social and sexual needs that there’s far less incentive to go out into the “meatworld” and chase those things. This isn’t to say that the internet can give you more satisfaction than sex or relationships, because it doesn’t … [But it can] supply you with just enough satisfaction to placate those imperatives … I think it’s healthy to ask yourself: “If I didn’t have any of this, would I be going out more? Would I be having sex more?” For a lot of people my age, I think the answer is probably yes. (Editor’s note: This lengthy article offers an in-depth examination of how, in the last 20 years, the internet has enormously changed landscape of establishing a relationship.)
Facebook Increasingly Reliant on A.I. To Predict Suicide Risk – (NPR – November 17, 2018)
Facebook has been using artificial intelligence to detect if a user might be about engage in self-harm. The same technology may soon be used in other scenarios. A year ago, Facebook started using artificial intelligence to scan people’s accounts for danger signs of imminent self-harm. Facebook Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis noted, “In the very first month when we started it, we had about 100 imminent-response cases,” which resulted in Facebook contacting local emergency responders to check on someone. But that rate quickly increased. “To just give you a sense of how well the technology is working and rapidly improving … in the last year we’ve had 3,500 reports,” she says. That means AI monitoring is causing Facebook to contact emergency responders an average of about 10 times a day to check on someone — and that doesn’t include Europe, where the system hasn’t been deployed. Davis says the AI works by monitoring not just what a person writes online, but also how his or her friends respond. For instance, if someone starts streaming a live video, the AI might pick up on the tone of people’s replies. When the software flags someone, Facebook staffers decide whether to call the local police, and AI comes into play there, too. “We also are able to use AI to coordinate a bunch of information on location to try to identify the location of that individual so that we can reach out to the right emergency response team,” she says. In the U.S., Facebook’s call usually goes to a local 911 center, as illustrated in its promotional video. Mason Marks isn’t surprised that Facebook is employing AI this way. He’s a medical doctor and research fellow at Yale and NYU law schools, and recently wrote about Facebook’s system. “Ever since they’ve introduced livestreaming on their platform, they’ve had a real problem with people livestreaming suicides,” Marks says. “Facebook has a real interest in stopping that.”
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Mutant Superbugs Menace Future Space Station Expeditions – NASA – (RT – November 25, 2018)
Researchers found five strains of a multidrug-resistant bacterium similar to hospital-acquired infections on the International Space Station, raising concerns about the organisms’ health implications for future missions. The Enterobacter bugadensis strains found on the ISS were not infectious to humans in their current form. However, their genomes are similar enough to three pathogenic Earth strains to warrant further study, according to researchers at California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Biotechnology and Planetary Protection Group. All five bacterial strains were resistant to five of the most commonly-used antibiotics, including penicillin, and “resistant or intermediate resistant” to two more. The space-bugs have a 79 percent probability of potentially infecting humans, according to a computer analysis the researchers performed, but senior research scientist Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran stated that there was no cause for alarm (yet), emphasizing the need to conduct further studies in living creatures to determine how environmental factors related to space travel affected the bacteria. Microgravity is known to increase a bacterium’s tendency to acquire foreign genetic material and to become resistant to metals and antibiotics, factors which could predispose the ISS E. bugadensis strains toward increased virulence in the future. A Russian experiment concluded in July similarly found that terrestrial bacteria sent to space exhibited a marked increase in aggression and antibiotic resistance upon their return to Earth.
Scientists Predict a ‘Dark Matter Hurricane’ Will Collide with the Earth – (CNet – November 12, 2018)
Astronomers suggest that it’s very likely that a “dark matter hurricane” will slam into the Earth as it speeds through the Milky Way — but it shouldn’t cause any damage. In fact, in the hunt for the mysterious particle (or particles) that makes up dark matter, the “hurricane” may provide our best chance at detection. Throughout the Milky Way there are a number of stellar streams, gatherings of stars that were once dwarf galaxies or clusters. In ancient history they collided with the Milky Way and were torn apart — leaving a stream of orbiting stars that circle the galactic center. One such stellar stream, dubbed S1 and discovered last year by scientists examining data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite, passes directly through the path of our sun. As our solar system speeds through the outer reaches of the Milky Way, it flies through dark matter at around 143 miles per second. A study led by researchers at the University of Zaragoza, suggests that the dark matter present in the stream may be travelling at double that speed — roughly around 310 miles per second — giving us a much better chance at detecting dark matter. As dark matter is theorized to make up around 85% of the matter in the universe, detection of the particle or particles that make it up would fundamentally change how we look at the universe.
NASA Learns More about Interstellar Visitor ‘Oumuamua – (NASA – November 14, 2018)
In November 2017, scientists pointed NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope toward the object known as ‘Oumuamua – the first known interstellar object to visit our solar system. The infrared Spitzer was one of many telescopes pointed at ‘Oumuamua in the weeks after its discovery that October. ‘Oumuamua was too faint for Spitzer to detect when it looked more than two months after the object’s closest approach to Earth in early September. David Trilling, lead author on the new study and a professor of astronomy at Northern Arizona University, observed, “The fact that ‘Oumuamua was too small for Spitzer to detect is actually a very valuable result.” The “non-detection” puts a new limit on how large the strange object can be. The new size limit is consistent with the findings of a research paper published earlier this year, which suggested that outgassing was responsible for the slight changes in ‘Oumuamua’s speed and direction as it was tracked last year: The authors of that paper conclude the expelled gas acted like a small thruster gently pushing the object. That determination was dependent on ‘Oumuamua being relatively smaller than typical solar system comets. (The conclusion that ‘Oumuamua experienced outgassing suggested that it was composed of frozen gases, similar to a comet.) The new study also suggests that ‘Oumuamua may be up to 10 times more reflective than the comets that reside in our solar system – a surprising result, according to the paper’s authors. ‘Oumuamua is on its way out of our solar system – almost as far from the Sun as Saturn’s orbit – and is well beyond the reach of any existing telescopes. “Usually, if we get a measurement from a comet that’s kind of weird, we go back and measure it again until we understand what we’re seeing,” said Davide Farnocchia, of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at JPL and a coauthor on both papers. “But this one is gone forever; we probably know as much about it as we’re ever going to know.”
Insulin Shortage Could Affect 40 Million People with Type 2 Diabetes – (Guardian – November 20, 2018)
About 40 million people who will need insulin to manage their type 2 diabetes in 12 years’ time will not get it unless access to the drug is significantly improved, according to new research. Diagnoses of type 2 diabetes are soaring worldwide, linked to the obesity epidemic. A study published in the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal shows that 79 million people with type 2 will need it by 2030 and that half of them will not be able to get it. About 33 million people who need insulin currently do not have access to the drug. “These estimates suggest that current levels of insulin access are highly inadequate compared to projected need, particularly in Africa and Asia, and more efforts should be devoted to overcoming this looming health challenge. The number of adults with type 2 diabetes is expected to rise over the next 12 years due to ageing, urbanization, and associated changes in diet and physical activity. Unless governments begin initiatives to make insulin available and affordable, then its use is always going to be far from optimal.” said Dr Sanjay Basu from Stanford University in the US, who led the research. The study predicts that between 2018 and 2030, the number of people with Type 2 diabetes will rise from 406 million to 511 million . More than half will live in China (130 million), India (98 million), and the US (32 million). Of these, 79 million would be given insulin if there were universal access, but only 38 million are likely to get it as things stand. However, there are already problems with insulin access even in wealthy countries. In the US, prices have risen sharply and Senator Bernie Sanders has asked for a federal investigation. Three big manufacturers dominate insulin production.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Want to Know When You’re Going to Die? – (Technology Review – October 19, 2018)
So far, science has been no more accurate at predicting life span than a $10 fortune teller. But that’s starting to change. The measures being developed will never get good enough to forecast an exact date or time of death, but insurance companies are already finding them useful, as are hospitals and palliative care teams. The work still needs to be made more practical, and companies have to figure out the best uses for the data. Ethicists, meanwhile, worry about how people will cope with knowing the final secret of life. But like it or not, the death predictor is coming. Steve Horvath, a UCLA biostatistician, has found a powerful link between epigenetic changes and aging. “I was blown away by how strong the signal was,” he says. “I dropped most other projects in my lab and said: ‘This is the future.’” Horvath became particularly intrigued by how certain chemical changes to cytosine—one of the four DNA bases, or “letters” of the genetic code—make genes more or less active. Given someone’s actual age, looking for these changes in that person’s DNA can tell him whether the person’s body is aging unusually fast or slowly. His team tested this epigenetic clock on 13,000 blood samples collected decades ago, from people whose subsequent date of death was known. The results can be used to predict mortality. Because most common diseases—cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s—are diseases of aging, the ticking of Horvath’s clock predicts how long someone will live and how much of that life will be free of these diseases (though it doesn’t foretell which ones people will get). “After five years of research, there is nobody who disputes that epigenetics predicts life span,” he says. Aging eight or more years faster than your calendar age equates to twice the typical risk of dying, while aging seven years slower is associated with half the risk of death, Horvath says. His lab has developed a new version that is such a precise life span predictor they named it after the Grim Reaper: DNAm GrimAge. The epigenetic clock is more accurate the younger a person is. It’s especially inaccurate for the very old. “At this point, we don’t have any evidence that it’s clinically useful, because there are big error bars,” Horvath says. Besides, there’s no pill to reverse the effects.
LA Couple Win $1.5 Million XPrize for Radical System That Can Make Clean Water from Air for Less Than 2 Cents a Quart – (Daily Mail – October 25, 2018)
David Hertz and his wife, Laura Doss-Hertz, have won the $1.5 million XPrize For Water Abundance. They developed a system that uses shipping containers, wood chips and other detritus to produce as much as 528 gallons of water a day at a cost of no more than 2 cents a quart. David and Laura, a commercial photographer, and their partner Richard Groden, who created a smaller machine, assembled The Skysource/Skywater Alliance and went to work. The Skywater system relies on a patented Adiabatic Distillation Process, which reduces water vapor to liquid without a gain or loss of heat, according to the company’s website. It works best in higher humidity and temperature. After condensation, the water is filtered and treated with ozone to enhance its taste and prevent potentially hazardous micro-organisms from forming and the water can be used or stored for future use,’ according to SkySource. The team uses shipping containers filled with wood chips to essentially create little rainstorms. This produces the right conditions to draw water from the air, and the wood itself. One of the fascinating things about shipping containers is that more are imported than exported, so there’s generally a surplus,’ says Hertz, adding they’re cheap and easy to move around. If you don’t have wood chips, coconut husks, rice, walnut shells, grass clippings or just about any other such bio-waste product will do just fine.
International Scientists Have Found Autism’s Cause. What will Americans do? – (JB Handley blog – April 2, 2018)
Five clear, replicable, and related discoveries explaining how autism is triggered have formed an undeniably clear picture of autism’s causation, and possibly ways to alleviate the symptoms, too. Most of the research that has created this understanding has been published in the last 36 months, and largely from international scientists in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Israel, and China. The American media, public health authorities, and Autism Speaks? Silent. Significantly, this article looks at the aluminum “load” in children’s vaccines. Aluminum is a critical component of most vaccines given to children. It serves as an “adjuvant” meaning the aluminum serves to “wake up” the immune system, provoking the immune system to recognize the “antigen” within the vaccine for whatever disease the vaccine serves to protect against. The amount of aluminum in vaccines given to children skyrocketed beginning in the early 1990s for two reasons: 1), more vaccines were added to the children’s vaccine schedule and, 2), the vaccination rate for all vaccines given to children rose (from 50–60% of children vaccinated in the mid-1980s to over 90% today). A child in the mid-1980s would have received 1,250 micrograms of aluminum from their vaccines by their 18-month birthday if they were fully vaccinated. Today, that number is 4,925 micrograms, a near-quadrupling of total aluminum. (Editor’s note: This article extensively references reputably published research and offers supporting links.)
The Next Data Mine Is Your Bedroom – (Atlantic – November 17, 2018)
With a fascinating pair of new patents for smart-home technology, Google is hoping users will open their home to its trademark eavesdropping. In the first patent, Google imagines devices that would scan and analyze the surroundings of your home, then offer you content based on what they detect. The patent imagines that smart-home devices would make all types of inferences about users, sorting them into categories based on what the devices see in their most personal spaces. Using object recognition, they could calculate “fashion taste” by scanning your clothing, and even estimate your income based on any “expensive mechanical and/or electronic devices” they detect. Audio signatures, too, could be used to not only identify users, but to determine gender and age based on the timbre of their voice. The smart home would recommend what to watch and where to shop, all based on how it sorts users into categories of taste, income, and interest. If this sounds invasive, it’s important to recognize that this is already happening, just online. Google and Facebook both record and analyze user behavior, use it to sort people into categories, and then target them with ads and other content. Facebook likely knows your race and religion, while Google uses your emails and search history to sort you into ad-ready brackets. This patent simply expands the areas in which your behavior is already mined and recorded from your phone and laptop to your bedroom. And your children’s bedrooms. The second patent proposes a smart-home system that would help run the household, using sensors and cameras to restrict kids’ behavior. Parents could program a device to note if it overhears “foul language” from children, scan internet usage for mature or objectionable content, or use “occupancy sensors” to determine if certain areas of the house are accessed while they’re gone— for example, the liquor cabinet. The system could be set to “change a smart lighting system color to red and flash the lights” as a warning to children or even power off lights and devices if they’re grounded.
The Genius Neuroscientist Who Might Hold the Key to True AI – (Wired – November 13, 2018)
Karl Friston is the scientific director of University College London’s storied Functional Imaging Laboratory, known to everyone who works there as the FIL. Friston first became a heroic figure in academia for devising many of the most important tools that have made human brains legible to science. In 1990 he invented statistical parametric mapping, a computational technique that helps—as one neuroscientist put it—“squash and squish” brain images into a consistent shape so that researchers can do apples-to-apples comparisons of activity within different crania. But for the past decade or so, Friston has devoted much of his time and effort to developing an idea he calls the free energy principle. With this idea, Friston believes he has identified nothing less than the organizing principle of all life, and all intelligence as well. “If you are alive,” he sets out to answer, “what sorts of behaviors must you show?” The free energy principle, at its heart, tells a simple story and solves a basic puzzle. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that the universe tends toward entropy, toward dissolution; but living things fiercely resist it. How? Friston’s free energy principle says that all life, at every scale of organization—from single cells to the human brain, with its billions of neurons—is driven by the same universal imperative, which can be reduced to a mathematical function. To be alive, he says, is to act in ways that reduce the gulf between your expectations and your sensory inputs. Or, in Fristonian terms, it is to minimize free energy. Regarding the connection between the free energy principle and artificial intelligence, Friston predicts that within five to 10 years, most machine learning will incorporate free energy minimization. (Editor’s note: This article profiles a fascinating individual whose name will probably become quite well known even to the general public within a few years.)
The Voice of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ – (Politico – Nov./Dec., 2018)
The “intellectual dark web,” or IDW, is a loose cadre of academics, journalists and tech entrepreneurs who view themselves as standing up to the knee-jerk left-leaning politics of academia and the media. Over the past year, the IDW has arisen as a puzzling political force, made up of thinkers who support “Enlightenment values” and accuse the left of setting dangerously illiberal limits on acceptable thought. Quillette, the online magazine run by Claire Lehmann is the unofficial digest of the IDW. For readers and thinkers who regard themselves as intellectually curious but feel alienated from the lock-step politics of universities and the broader left, Quillette has become a haven for topics treated as taboo elsewhere (including ones connected to heritability, sex and sex differences, race, culture, Islam, free speech, and violence). At times, it has drawn intense social media backlash, with contributors labeled everything from “clowns” to “cryptofascists” on Twitter. The list of the site’s all-time Top 10 most-read articles includes “The Psychology of Progressive Hostility,” “I Was the Mob Until the Mob Came for Me” and “Why Women Don’t Code.” (Short answer: Because they don’t want to.) But Quillette’s editorial mix is more unpredictable than these greatest hits might suggest; recently, a treatise against thank-you notes led the site for a few days. Twitter, the forum of choice for contrarians, is the site’s biggest driver of traffic. Whether you think the magazine is a “safe space for academics and others with novel ideas who feel stifled by oppressive social and speech norms,” as Lehmann herself does, or a “hub for reactionary thought,” per the website the Outline, Quillette keeps appearing in roiling controversies about speech and identity, so much so that what started as a niche destination for evolutionary psychologists is now on the front lines of the culture wars. Yet, with its increased popularity comes greater scrutiny of Quillette’s controversial ideas—as well as the risk that its mostly dry, academic discussion could become flash points for extremists. Just how far will Quillette go in its devotion to iconoclasm?
Synthetic Biology and the New Culture of Responsibility – (Synbiobeta – October 25, 2018)
In 1980, in one of modern medicine’s crowning achievements, the World Health Organization declared the official eradication of smallpox — a virus that is estimated to have killed more than 300 million people in the 20th century. Today, scientists hold the tools to resurrect smallpox from scratch. (“The smallpox sequence is published, so you could recover it by synthesis if you had the lab facilities to do that,” said David Baltimore, winner of 1975 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.) In fact, they’ve done just that with several other viruses. Last year, Canadian researchers reconstituted the “extinct” horsepox virus, a cousin of smallpox, for $100,000 using mail-order DNA. That experiment follows others like it, including the assembly of the much smaller poliovirus in 2002 and the resurrection in 2005 of the H1N1 pandemic virus, also known as the “Spanish influenza”, that wiped out 50 million people a century ago. Underlying these scientific milestones and many other contributions to healthcare, environmentally friendly manufacturing, and more, is a field called synthetic biology — and it is gaining speed. Synthetic biology, or “synbio,” combines principles of engineering and biology to produce products for agriculture, healthcare, foods, materials, and more. But synthetic biology also presents risks that need to be managed. One such risk stems from the dual-use applications of biotechnology — the possibility that this technology could be diverted to construct toxins and pathogens for use as biological weapons. As the building blocks of synthetic biology become more decentralized, or “democratized,” the risk that these tools will be misused by individuals with sinister intentions goes up accordingly. And as synbio accelerates, the risks increase. This article looks at nascent international risk mitigation frameworks.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
A Chest of Gold Hidden in the Rockies Is the Ultimate Social Experiment – (Huffington Post – November 23, 2108)
Forest Fenn, a retired millionaire, claims to have buried a treasure somewhere in a vast swath of the Rocky Mountains ― somewhere north of Santa Fe, above 5,000 feet elevation in the rest of northern New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming or Montana. The ornate, 12th-century Romanesque chest is supposedly filled with dozens of gold nuggets ― two the size of a hen’s egg that weigh a pound each ― as well as hundreds of gold coins, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds and other antique jewelry. The box and its contents are estimated to be worth as much as $2 million. In 2010, the eccentric Vietnam veteran, author and self-taught archaeologist said he ventured out and placed the loaded chest somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. The memoir he self-published later that year, The Thrill of the Chase, includes the poem that he said contains nine clues on the treasure’s whereabouts. Fenn estimates more than 300,000 people have joined the search in some capacity, judging from his mailbox. Most of the correspondence is positive. On three occasions, people told him they were considering suicide until they learned of the hidden treasure. But over the better part of a decade, a brainchild aimed at giving people hope and getting children into the wilderness and away from their computer screens has morphed into something that, at times, can be ugly. People who were once excited about a chance to strike it rich have grown frustrated. Some are angry. He’s received death threats. The hunt has clearly brought happiness, better health or a new appreciation for the outdoors for some participants. For others, it’s wrought pain, financial hardship and even death. It’s brought some families and friends together, torn others apart. “I am a little surprised at the variation of personalities that are involved,” Fenn told me in an email. “It is [a] cross-section of who we are as a people, and an interesting study in anthropology.” Fenn admits that he wouldn’t have hidden the treasure if he’d known then what he does now. But he bristles at the idea that the whole thing is an elaborate hoax.
JUST FOR FUN
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy Perfectly Synced to a Line Rider Course – (Twisted Sifter – July 30, 2018)
DoodleChaos is back with another Line Rider course synced to Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”. Adding the second line rider was impressive, but the third? Fabulous!
A FINAL QUOTE
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. – Albert Einstein
A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, David Townsend, 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.
Edited by John L. Petersen