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Volume 21, Number 8 – 4/15/18
FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
Earth’s oceans, huge bodies of electrically-conductive salt water, create a weak magnetic signal as they ebb and flow. What was formerly thought of as “junk” DNA performs the vital function of ensuring that chromosomes bundle correctly inside the cell’s nucleus. US Drones will soon use AI to decide who to kill. A new polymer-based material uses ambient light to kill hospital superbugs.
by John L. Petersen
Ayahuasca pioneer, Dr. Dennis McKenna, coming to Berkeley Springs Transition Talks
Join us Saturday, May 12, 2018, 2 to 4 pm in Berkeley Springs for “Climbing the Vine”!
Have you heard about the consciousness expanding plant medicine called Ayahuasca – a powerful potion from the Amazon that has opened up many millions of people to illuminated spiritual states and unique personal assessment?
If so, it is because of Terence and Dennis McKenna. These brothers were the pioneers who, as young researchers, explored the Amazonian rain forest, finding the shaman practitioners and secrets of the extraordinary mind-expanding ayahuasca elixir and bringing that knowledge to hundreds of thousands of 1960’s young people who were exploring the outer edges of consciousness.
Terrance and Dennis, along with contemporaries that included Timothy Leary, John Lilly, Ram Dass, and leaders in popularizing the use of psychedelics drugs – that were then used by people like Steve Jobs, to revolutionize our world.
Dennis McKenna and his brother Terence first came to S. America in 1971. Their unexpected adventures in pursuit of exotic psychedelics led to some surprising discoveries recounted in Terence’s book, True Hallucinations, and Dennis’ 2012 memoir, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss. In 1981, Dennis returned to Peru, this time as a graduate student, and began his scientific investigations of ayahuasca, that continue to this day as a professional and personal passion. In this lecture, Dennis tells the tale of an unusual life lived in the shadow (or perhaps the light) of this mysterious and beautiful medicine.
“Ayahuasca has been a professional and personal passion of mine for nearly 50 years. It was the focus of my doctoral dissertation which I received from the University of British Columbia in 1984. I have continued to investigate it scientifically, while also continuing to learn from this plant teacher as a part of my spiritual and personal development. In this talk, I will share some reminiscences of a life lived ‘climbing the vine’ and some of the unlikely directions of the path I have followed and some of the truly unique people that I would never have encountered were it not for the gift of this medicine in my life. That story will be the main theme of this talk but it also includes a smattering of science and historical references to place it all in context.” ~ Dennis McKenna, Ph.D.
Let me tell you more…
Get complete details at TransitionTalks.org.
John Petersen to speak at Energy, Science and Technology Conference
I will be one of the keynote speakers at one of the foremost new energy conferences in the world, held in Idaho (near Spokane, Washington), on the 5th -8th of July. ESTC is a marvelously interesting mix of researchers and inventors who are on the leading edge of “free” and alternative energy. It is always a most provocative time full of new ideas . . . and mind-blowing technology that really works. The revolution is starting there.
Here’s what some of the folks who attended last year had to say about their experience:
This is a really great conference, with ample opportunities to meet many very interesting people and hear sometimes amazing presentations about working technologies that trumpet the emergence of a new world. That’s what I’m going to talk about. Here’s the description of my talk.
New Energy: The Linchpin to Unprecedented Change and the Emergence of a New Era
We are full into the most extraordinary period of change ever experienced by humanity . . . and the acceleration will increase before things begin to settle down. Amazing breakthroughs and manipulations of our reality signal a transition the likes of which baffles conventional wisdom.
The endpoint is a new world populated by new humans – both fundamentally different from the familiar forms that we all grew up with. Many sources paint a picture of a world without war for millennia.
Futurist John Petersen will paint the big picture of what is going on, where it could be headed and why new energy is such a key piece of the extraordinary new world.
You can get complete information on the program at energyscienceconference.com. If this is of interest to you, there are only about 40 seats left, so register soon.
Hope to see you there.
Fake News 2.0: Personalized, Optimized, and Even Harder to Stop – (Technology Review – March 27, 2018)
Fake news may have already influenced politics in the US, but it’s going to get a lot worse, warns an AI consultant to the US government. Sean Gourley, founder and CEO of Primer, a company that uses software to mine data sources and automatically generate reports for US intelligence agencies via In-Q-Tel, the intelligence community’s investment fund, told a conference in San Francisco that the next generation of fake news would be far more sophisticated thanks to AI. Gourley noted that the fake news seen to date has been relatively simple, consisting of crude, hand-crafted stories posted to social media at regular intervals. Technology such as Primer’s could easily be used to generate convincing fake stories automatically, he said, and that could mean fake reports tailored to an individual’s interests and sympathies and carefully tested before being released, to maximize their impact. “I can generate a million stories, see which ones get the most traction, double down on those,” Gourley said. “Where you inject information is going to have a massive impact on how it spreads and diffuses,” Gourley said. He went on to suggest that a platform like Facebook may be inherently flawed for sharing news. “All we’ve seen at the moment is primitive, and it’s had a profound impact, and more is coming,” he said. Gourley did, however, agree that AI would be at least part of the solution. “If machines are going to produce it on one side,” he said, “then you’d better have machines helping you sift through it on the other.”
Scientists Identify Protein That Could Let Birds See Magnetic Fields – (GizModo – April 3, 2018)
Birds probably know quantum physics better than many humans—it just comes to them innately. To help them navigate long distances across the globe, birds are thought to have proteins in their eyes that could perhaps let them literally see the Earth’s magnetic field, a bit like a natural heads-up display. Two teams of scientists now think they’ve identified the light-sensitive protein key to this process, which relies on an innate attribute of electrons called “spin,” one of the most quantum mechanical properties there is. Two new studies — one examining zebra finches and the other looking at European robins — both single out Cry4, a light-sensitive protein found in the retina. If the researchers are correct, this would be the first time a specific molecule responsible for the detection of magnetic fields has been identified in animals. As described in a paper in the Annual Review of Biophysics, some molecules have an odd number of electrons, leaving some unpaired, making those electrons sensitive to external magnetic fields. You can produce two of these “radical” molecules at the same time—perhaps one molecule gives an electron to another, or a molecule breaks in two such that each piece has an unpaired electron. The two pieces now have one each in a pair of correlated electrons, forming one of two states based on their spins: pointing the same way or pointing opposite ways. With the help of hydrogen and nitrogen nuclei, which also have spins, the electrons oscillate between the two states in an external magnetic field. This process may even be sensitive to Earth’s very weak magnetic field. The direction of the molecules compared to the magnetic field could change the nature of that oscillation. If you have a pair of these radicals in a chemical reaction that was sensitive to this oscillation, the Earth’s magnetic field could potentially change the reaction’s outcome. If the bird is facing one way, the radicals combine into a single final product. If the bird is facing another way, the radicals stay separated. If such a reaction happened in the birds’ eyes, perhaps they could literally see the Earth’s magnetic field. There isn’t yet definitive proof, but this is a strong “maybe”.
We Just Discovered a Galaxy without Dark Matter – (Science Alert – March 28, 2018)
Dark Matter has been a persistent thorn in the side of physicists. It shouldn’t be there, but it has to be, and obviously is. And, even weirder, dark matter is far more common than ordinary matter. We can trace it thanks to a property of space-time called gravitational lensing, and as far as we can tell, it’s everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except one galaxy: NGC1051-DF2. We still don’t know what exactly dark matter is, but it’s currently the most elegant explanation for some of the dynamics observed in galaxies. Most galaxies are even thought to have more dark matter than regular matter. So this dark matter free galaxy is doubly perplexing. And according to current thinking about galactic evolution, dark matter is not just a component, but even a requirement for galaxies to be born in the first place. Lead author Pieter van Dokkum of Yale University said, “For decades, we thought that galaxies start their lives as blobs of dark matter. After that everything else happens: gas falls into the dark matter halos, the gas turns into stars, they slowly build up, then you end up with galaxies like the Milky Way. NGC1052-DF2 challenges the standard ideas of how we think galaxies form.” In addition, the galaxy has huge implications in the study of dark matter. Because – simply by having none, but having stars – NCG1052-DF2 helps to prove that dark matter really exists in other galaxies and is separate from baryonic matter. None of the speculative hypotheses concerning this galaxy are able to explain all of its peculiarities. So the team is searching for more galaxies like NGC1052-DF2, in the hope of being able to start putting together a statistical picture.
Universe’s Earliest Light Reveals Dark-Matter “Superhighway” 100’s of Millions of Light Years Long – (Daily Galaxy – April 10, 2081)
“Filaments are this integral part of the cosmic web, though it’s unclear what is the relationship between the underlying dark matter and the filaments,” said Simone Ferraro, one of the study’s authors who is a Miller postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley’s Center for Cosmological Physics. Scientists have decoded faint distortions in the patterns of the universe’s earliest light to map huge tubelike structures invisible to our eyes – known as filaments – that serve as superhighways for delivering matter to dense hubs such as galaxy clusters. Dark matter constitutes the filaments – which researchers learned typically stretch and bend across hundreds of millions of light years – and the so-called halos that host clusters of galaxies are fed by the universal network of filaments. More studies of these filaments could provide new insights about dark energy, another mystery of the universe that drives its accelerating expansion. Filament properties could also put gravity theories to the test, including Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and lend important clues to help solve an apparent mismatch in the amount of visible matter predicted to exist in the universe – the “missing baryon problem.”
Africa Splitting into Two, Experts Say Suswa Rift Is Evidence- (Hivisasa – April 5, 2018)
The Earth movement that led to a rift in Suswa more than two weeks ago is an indication that Africa will eventually split into two, geologists say. The Suswa crevasse at the intersection of the busy Mai Mahiu – Narok road is more than 20 meters wide and 50 meters deep. A recent study by the experts says that the lithosphere in the East African region has thinned almost to the point of complete break-up. “When this happens, a new ocean will begin forming by the solidification of magma in the space created by the broken-up plates. Eventually, over a period of tens of millions of years, seafloor spreading will progress along the entire length of the rift. The ocean will flood in and, as a result, the African continent will become smaller and there will be a large island in the Indian Ocean composed of parts of Ethiopia and Somalia, including the Horn of Africa.
Simulation May Finally Explain Why Knuckle Cracking Makes That Awful Sound – (GizModo – March 29, 2018)
For decades, scientists have debated the cause of the popping sound when we crack our knuckles. Using computer models, a research team from France may have finally reached the answer. As the authors state in the new paper published in Scientific Reports, the sound of knuckles cracking is caused by a “collapsing cavitation bubble in the synovial fluid inside a metacarpophalangeal joint during an articular release.” More simply, it’s the sound of microscopic gas bubbles collapsing—but not fully popping—inside the finger joint. Scientists first proposed this theory nearly 50 years ago, but this latest paper used a combination of lab experiments and a computer simulation to bolster the case. The whole phenomenon takes only about 300 milliseconds to unfold. What scientists have agreed upon is that knuckle cracking is not something everyone is able to do, not every finger can produce the popping sound, and it takes about 20 minutes before a knuckle can be cracked again.
Earth’s Mysterious Second Magnetic Field Revealed in Stunning New Swarm Images – (Newsweek – April 11, 2018)
The Moon is behind our oceans’ tides, drawing water to and from coasts with its gravitational pull. This movement generates a weak magnetic field. The huge bodies of electrically-conductive salt water create a magnetic signal as they ebb and flow. Now, a constellation of satellites has mapped this elusive magnetic field in impressive detail. Dubbed “Swarm,” the European Space Agency mission results stunned scientists at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly 2018 in Vienna, Austria. The field has been incredibly difficult to track because it is so small – about 20,000 times weaker than the Earth’s global magnetic field. Hot, swirling liquid iron in the Earth’s outer core generates the vast majority of its magnetism. The ocean field makes a small but important contribution to the overall magnetic signal of the planet.
Taste Buds Dull As People Gain Weight. Now Scientists Think They Know Why – (NPR – March 20, 2018)
Robin Dando’s work, which he and his graduate students Andrew Kaufman and Ezen Choo published in PLoS Biology, investigates a curious effect of being obese: why people’s sense of taste seems to dull as they gain weight. Doctors have known about the phenomenon for the last few years, after reports published in the last decade showed that obese people performed poorly on taste tests compared with normal weight individuals. But the fundamental question remained: why? Article describes research looking at four groups of genetically engineered mice. The study’s conclusion is that “taste bud loss is really related to that inflammatory state,” Dando says. That’s a key finding, says Dr. John Morton, the chief of bariatric medicine at Stanford University, who was not involved in the new study. “We’ve known for a long time that obesity is a disease of inflammation,” he says. “Before this study, we didn’t know that there is a connection between inflammation and the proliferation of taste buds, and that actually leads to the decrease in taste sensitivity.”
Where Fat Goes When You Lose Weight – (CNN – March 25, 2018)
The world is obsessed with fad diets and weight loss, yet few of us know how a kilogram of fat actually vanishes off the scales. Even the 150 doctors, dietitians and personal trainers we surveyed shared this surprising gap in their health literacy. The most common misconception by far, was that fat is converted to energy. The problem with this theory is that it violates the law of conservation of matter, which all chemical reactions obey. Some respondents thought fat turns into muscle, which is impossible, and others assumed it escapes via the colon. Only three of our respondents gave the right answer, which means 98% of the health professionals in our survey could not explain how weight loss works. So if not energy, muscles or the loo, where does fat go?
Can the Secret to Staying Forever Young Be as Simple as Flicking a Switch? – (Fast Company – March 15, 2018)
“Aging has control knobs,” says cofounder of UNITY Biotechnology, which is working to develop medicines that may one day halt natural cell deterioration. “These are siblings—-born within seconds of each other,” Ned David says of the two mice he shows in a video flashing on the wall. In mouse years, they were both around 70. One was frail and blind with its fur falling out, hunched against the wall; the other limber and scampering about. The difference: Researches had cleared one mouse of senescent cells, which appear only in older mammals and are responsible for many of the hallmarks of aging: blindness, joint pain, and bone deterioration. The existence of these cells, says David, cofounder of UNITY Biotechnology, and the ability of science and medicine to treat them, may be the key to tackling the most difficult aspects of getting old. As we age, he says, our cells essentially get exhausted and “pull the emergency brake” to stop dividing. That phenomenon is called senescence. And these senescent cells don’t just represent the end of youth for that particular cell–they also secrete toxins into the surrounding cells, which begin to break down. That’s why you see the tissue in between joints erode in older mammals, and bones begin to wear thin–the senescent cells have halted the capability of our bodies to renew themselves. Cellular senescence, David adds, is not the only biological mechanism that contributes to aging–there are other factors like neurodegeneration, which drive Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and are more difficult to tackle. But it is “a mechanism that’s uniquely amenable to the creation of medicines.” His company is working on a drug that essentially removes senescent cells from the body, and clears the way for new, healthy cells to continue to propagate. He’s already tested it on small mammals–the mice in the video he showed, for instance–and this year, UNITY will debut a drug specifically designed to treat arthritis by clearing senescent cells.
Scientists Discover a Role for ‘Junk’ DNA – (PhysOrg – April 11, 2018)
Researchers at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have determined how satellite DNA, considered to be “junk DNA,” plays a crucial role in holding the genome together. Their findings indicate that this genetic “junk” performs the vital function of ensuring that chromosomes bundle correctly inside the cell’s nucleus, which is necessary for cell survival. And this function appears to be conserved across many species. This pericentromeric satellite DNA consists of a very simple, highly repetitive sequence of genetic code. Although it accounts for a substantial portion of our genome, satellite DNA does not contain instructions for making any specific proteins. What’s more, its repetitive nature is thought to make the genome less stable and more susceptible to damage or disease. Until fairly recently, scientists believed this so-called “junk” or “selfish” DNA did not serve any real purpose. “But we were not quite convinced by the idea that this is just genomic junk,” said Yukiko Yamashita, research professor at the LSI and lead author on the study. “If we don’t actively need it, and if not having it would give us an advantage, then evolution probably would have gotten rid of it. But that hasn’t happened.” Yamashita and her colleagues decided to see what would happen if cells could not use this pericentromeric satellite DNA.
Under Water Wonder of the World – (Armstrong Economics – March 3, 2018)
Article showcases a number of “sunken cities” all over the world and a 7,000 year old Native American burial site off the coast of Florida. The point is that ocean levels have raised substantially in the past – at least on some occasions for reasons clearly not due to human induced causes. Some cities are sunken for known or suspected reasons (earthquakes, intentional flooding); in other cases, the reason seems to be unknown. See Underwater City Ruins: 7 Submerged Wonders of the World for further details of some of these sites.
Digital Deceit – The Technologies Behind Precision Propaganda on the Internet. (New America – January 23, 2018)
The central problem of disinformation corrupting American political culture is not Russian spies or a particular social media platform. The central problem is that the entire industry is built to leverage sophisticated technology to aggregate user attention and sell advertising. There is an alignment of interests between advertisers and the platforms. And disinformation operators are typically indistinguishable from any other advertiser. Any viable policy solutions must start here. To inform and support this important public debate, this paper analyzes the technologies of digital advertising and marketing in order to deepen our understanding of precision propaganda. Topics covered include: behavioral data tracking, online ad buying, social media management services (SMMS), and artificial intelligence in marketing. Current efforts to promote transparency in the advertising ecosystem are important steps. But these are only the first moves in a long and difficult challenge. This article offers a set of principles to guide the path forward as well as starting points for potential regulatory intervention. Download the entire Report.
Amazon Patent Admits It Will Listen in Real-time for “Trigger Words” That Could Get You Arrested and Imprisoned – (Natural News – April 6, 2018)
This is actually not “fake news” although the title has that air of sensationalism. It is a very careful – and, yes, extreme but not utterly farfetched – extrapolation of the possible uses of a process for which Amazon filed a patent application filed in June, 2017. The application number is: 15/620,252. Here is the Abstract from the application: “Topics of potential interest to a user, useful for purposes such as targeted advertising and product recommendations, can be extracted from voice content produced by a user. A computing device can capture voice content, such as when a user speaks into or near the device. One or more sniffer algorithms or processes can attempt to identify trigger words in the voice content, which can indicate a level of interest of the user. For each identified potential trigger word, the device can capture adjacent audio that can be analyzed, on the device or remotely, to attempt to determine one or more keywords associated with that trigger word. The identified keywords can be stored and/or transmitted to an appropriate location accessible to entities such as advertisers or content providers who can use the keywords to attempt to select or customize content that is likely relevant to the user.” In other words, the captured content can be sold. It could reasonably also be requested by law enforcement agencies, which might “partner” with Amazon by specifying some of the trigger words that Amazon’s software would listen for. If you want to follow its progress through the patent approval process, use this link to the US Patent Office and put in the application number noted above. To read the patent application, click on the “Published Documents” tab near the top of the screen. See also the next article.
Microsoft Warns Customers: Watch What You Say When Using Our Products — or Else – (Anti-Media – March 29, 2018)
In a release summarizing the new policy, which will go into effect May 1, Microsoft stated: “In the Code of Conduct section, we’ve clarified that use of offensive language and fraudulent activity is prohibited.” Microsoft stated that they may temporarily suspend or boot offending users permanently from their products. They also reserve the right to search through user content. The company’s code of conduct was written to crack down on spam, the transmission of malware, child exploitation, and illegal activity. So far, Microsoft has not been explicit about what will constitute offensive language. Users expect the policy to have the biggest effect on Xbox Live players, who are known to troll each other during games. But other Microsoft customers worry the new code of conduct could restrict free speech on platforms like Skype and OneDrive. Civil rights activist Jonathan Corbett challenged the company in a blog post, writing: “So wait a sec: I can’t use Skype to have an adult video call with my girlfriend? I can’t use OneDrive to back up a document that says ‘fuck’ in it? What’s clear here is that Microsoft is reserving the right to cancel your account whenever they feel like it.” Some journalists claim the Big 5 tech companies — Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon — as well as other information gatekeepers, are taking censorship cues from Washington lawmakers and acting as the de facto face of repressive government.
Norway Plans a Sustainable “City of the Future” – (Futurism – March 16, 2018)
Oslo, the capital of Norway, could soon be home to the most future-oriented, sustainable city in the world. Haptic Architects and the Nordic Office of Architecture have just released plans to create a city next to Oslo Airport, known as Oslo Airport City (OAC),that will be the “first energy positive airport city.” The location might seem random, but it could be ideal for the utopian city being planned. Oslo Airport expects its employees to double by 2050. This city could be a perfect location for their families to reside alongside visitors in transit.OAC will use only energy created within the city itself, and driverless, electric vehicles will roam its streets. “This is a unique opportunity to design a new city from scratch,” said Tomas Stokke, director of Haptic Architects. The city will be extremely walkable. The city’s center will be entirely car-free. This will be made possible, in large part, by the city’s innate walkability. OAC plans to use a host of boundary-pushing, green technologies. While not all tech has been specified yet, the city will use driverless cars, auto-lighting, “smart” waste tech, and security tech. The city will only use only the renewable energy that it produces. This will cut down on fossil fuel use and the energy used to transport fuel and energy. OAC will sell excess energy that it produces, and it will also use excess energy to de-ice planes – cutting down the airport’s fuel usage. Only electric cars will be used inside of the city. Public transportation will be extremely close. Plans also include a cycling route and a host of outdoor activities that don’t require electricity.
The Solar Highway That Can Recharge Electric Cars on the Move – (Bloomberg – April 11, 2018)
The road to China’s autonomous-driving future is paved with solar panels, mapping sensors and electric-battery rechargers as the nation tests an “intelligent highway” that could speed the transformation of the global transportation industry. The technologies will be embedded underneath transparent concrete used to build a 1,080-meter-long (3,540-foot-long) stretch of road in the eastern city of Jinan. About 45,000 vehicles barrel over the section every day, and the solar panels inside generate enough electricity to power highway lights and 800 homes, according to builder Qilu Transportation Development Group Co. Yet Qilu Transportation wants to do more than supply juice to the grid: it wants the road to be just as smart as the vehicles of the future. The government says 10% of all cars should be fully self-driving by 2030, and Qilu considers that an opportunity to deliver better traffic updates, more accurate mapping and on-the-go recharging of electric-vehicle batteries—all from the ground up. “The highways we have been using can only carry vehicles passing by, and they are like the 1.0-generation product,” said Zhou Yong, the company’s general manager. “We’re working on the 2.0 and 3.0 generations by transplanting brains and a nervous system.” China has a separate plan for developing its artificial-intelligence industry that calls for the nation to be the world’s primary AI innovation center by 2030. Part of that effort involves building what the government calls an intelligent transportation system. Coordinating the development of autonomous-driving cars and intelligent-road systems is a focus, said Yuan Peng, the deputy head of the transportation ministry’s science and technology department.
How Autonomous Cars Will Change Our World – (YouTube – March 13, 2019)
This is a short video clip which seems largely designed to encourage people to start becoming accustomed to autonomous vehicles, stating “They’ll be here by 2019”. It features a number of positives and glosses over any possible negatives. (You may wish to turn down the tacky soundtrack.) Six days after this clip was uploaded, an Uber self-driving car in Tempe, Arizona struck and killed a pedestrian. The Arizona state government has since told Uber that it must stop testing driverless cars in the state. Uber has also stopped testing self-driving cars in California, Pennsylvania, and Toronto. A video of the crash showed that Elaine Herzberg crossed a few lanes of traffic before reaching the lane where the Uber car was driving. The car’s “lidar and radar sensors—which don’t depend on ambient light and had an unobstructed view—should have spotted her in time to stop,” ArsTechnica wrote in a previous article. Tempe police chief Sylvia Moir said that Herzberg “came from the shadows right into the roadway,” but other videos of the site of the crash suggest that Herzberg would have been clearly visible to a human driver. The Uber car’s “safety driver” was looking down at her lap just before the crash. (Editor’s note: What becomes apparent here is just how quickly some element of the near-future that seemed inevitable can hit a wall.)
Cora – Personal Air Taxi – (Cora company website – no date)
Designing an air taxi for everyday life means bringing the airport to you. That’s why Cora can take off and land like a helicopter, eliminating the need for runways. Cora has the potential to transform spaces like rooftops and parking lots into places to take off right from your neighborhood. You have got enough happening in your life without having to learn how to fly. But what if flying across town was as easy as hopping in a rideshare? What if Cora could fly for you? Cora will combine self-flying software with expert human supervision, so you can enjoy the ride. There is also a suggestion that the craft is battery powered: “It’s part of the electric revolution that’s leading us to a sustainable future.” (Editor’s note: This is obviously a promo piece, but it’s interesting to see a prototype that describes itself as being between a light plane and a helicopter. The text does not explain whether the craft will be autonomous or have a licensed pilot: it is not clear who is going to use “the self-flying software” and/or who is going to provide the “expert human supervision”?)
What Are Phthalates And How Are They Linked To Dining Out? – (Medical Daily – March 29, 2018)
Over the years, an increasing number of published studies have warned the public about the potential health risks of being exposed to phthalates. But what exactly are they? Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften plastics, making them more flexible and harder to break. People are exposed to them in varying degrees in the form of household cleaners, make-up, adhesives, plastics, fragrances, detergents, vinyl flooring and other everyday objects. One study published in 2016 revealed how fast food consumers were exposed to higher levels of phthalates compared to people who rarely ate them. The same group of researchers explored the link further, broadening the scope to dining out rather than exclusively looking at fast food consumption. The new study analyzed data on 10,253 participants collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2005 and 2014. Participants were asked to recall what they ate and where their food came from in the previous 24 hours. Researchers also used measured levels of phthalate break-down products found in each participant’s urine sample. According to the results, 61% of the participants had reported dining out the previous day. Levels of phthalates in their bodies were observed as being 35% higher than those who chose to eat at home. It has been suggested that the phthalates used in packaging, gloves, take-out boxes and processing materials can contaminate the food they carry.
Coffee and Cancer: What the Research Really Shows – (American Cancer Society – April 3, 2018)
Californians will soon be taking their coffee with cream and a cancer warning, after a court ruled that the state’s retailers must label coffee as containing a carcinogen. The decision followed an eight-year legal battle, which boiled down to a question that has plagued coffee drinkers and scientists alike: Is drinking coffee healthy, or not? The judge’s ruling says that Starbucks and other coffee sellers failed to show that the health benefits of the brew, which include lowering heart disease, outweigh its cancer risk. Researchers have been investigating the links between coffee and cancer for decades. But there is still a lot they don’t know. In 2016, an expert panel convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – the arm of the World Health Organization that is responsible for assessing whether certain substances cause cancer – could not conclude that drinking coffee is carcinogenic based on the current evidence available. In this article, American Cancer Society researchers, Susan Gapstur, PhD, and Marjorie McCullough, ScD, provide insights into what studies to date really show when it comes to coffee and cancer, and discuss what other research is still needed.
Would You Eat Chicken Grown in a Lab? – (BBC News – March 20, 2018)
With the world’s population likely to reach 11 billion by the end of this century, there will be increasing pressure on farmers to maximize their use of agricultural land, and also on scientists to contribute to ensuring we all get enough nutrition. This is “cultured meat”. Its very existence suggests a potential future in which meat is largely decoupled from livestock and agriculture. Instead, meat could be cultivated in laboratory-like environments; grown from progenitor cells like stem cells that produce muscle tissue, for example. In a lab in California, Josh Tetrick’s team at Just has been growing chicken and foie gras. Maybe one day they’ll have a steak blooming out of a petri dish too. “I want to do tuna, I want to do steak, chicken breasts, milk and butter,” says Mr. Tetrick. “These are all things in our pipeline.” By the end of this year, he plans to have Just’s first cultured meat product available in the food marketplace, perhaps the synthetic foie gras or sausages. Mr. Tetrick’s hunch is that, for now, consumers will be interested only in synthetic meat that mirrors very closely the products that they’re used to. If a synthetic chicken breast is essentially indistinguishable from a real one, it may well catch on. But looking further into the future, once such products become established, it’s possible that designers will bring even more adventurous concepts to our plates, suggests Erin Kim, of the future food research institute New Harvest. You might start seeing elements of meat being incorporated into other types of foods – mixed with plant-based ingredients to produce a totally novel food products, she suggests.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Drones Will Soon Decide Who to Kill – (PhysOrg – April 11, 2018)
The US Army recently announced that it is developing the first drones that can spot and target vehicles and people using artificial intelligence (AI). Whereas current military drones are still controlled by people, this new technology will decide who to kill with almost no human involvement. Once complete, these drones will represent the ultimate militarization of AI and trigger vast legal and ethical implications for wider society. There is a chance that warfare will move from fighting to extermination, losing any semblance of humanity in the process. At the same time, it could widen the sphere of warfare so that the companies, engineers and scientists building AI become valid military targets. The prospect of totally autonomous drones would radically alter the complex processes and decisions behind military killings. But legal and ethical responsibility does not somehow just disappear if you remove human oversight. Instead, responsibility will increasingly fall on other people, including artificial intelligence scientists. The legal implications of these developments are already becoming evident. Under current international humanitarian law, “dual-use” facilities – those which develop products for both civilian and military application – can be attacked in the right circumstances. For example, in the 1999 Kosovo War, the Pancevo oil refinery was attacked because it could fuel Yugoslav tanks as well as fuel civilian cars.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
China to Ban Citizens with Bad ‘Social Credit’ Rating from Taking Flights or Using Trains for up to a Year – (Independent – March 17, 2018)
President Xi Jinping’s plan based on principle ‘once untrustworthy, always restricted’ to come into effect on 1 May. China said it will begin applying its so-called social credit system to flights and trains and stop people who have committed misdeeds from taking such transport for up to a year. People who would be put on the restricted lists included those found to have committed acts like spreading false information about terrorism and causing trouble on flights, as well as those who used expired tickets or smoked on trains. Those found to have committed financial wrongdoings, such as employers who failed to pay social insurance or people who have failed to pay fines, would also face these restrictions. China has flagged plans to roll out a system that will allow government bodies to share information on its citizens’ trustworthiness and issue penalties based on a so-called social credit score. However, there are signs that the use of social credit scoring on domestic transport could have started years ago. In early 2017, the country’s Supreme People’s Court said during a press conference that 6.15 million Chinese citizens had been banned from taking flights for social misdeeds.
When Israel Hatched a Secret Plan to Assassinate Iranian Scientists – (Politico – March 5, 2018)
In May 2003, the deputy head of the Mossad presented a top secret plan to the reclusive Israeli spy agency’s senior leadership, a group of some of the most hard-nosed security men in the world. The plan, the product of an intensive four-month effort, was an ultra-secret strategy to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Recently, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plots with U.S. President Donald Trump against an Iranian nuclear agreement that both men have trashed as nothing more than a pathway to a bomb, it’s worth looking back at this episode to understand how Israel’s spymasters think about the problem—and why they tend to view it radically differently than their political bosses. (Editor’s note: This article is a well written piece of the “backstory” to current developments in Syria, Iran, and Israel.) For a continuation of this topic, see also Israel is trying to ‘suck America into’ Iranian war that could lead to world war which contains the transcript of a talk given by Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired army colonel and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who now teaches government at Washington-area universities.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
‘The Gig Economy’ Is the New Term for Serfdom – (Truth Dig – March 25, 2018)
A 65-year-old New York City cab driver from Queens, Nicanor Ochisor, hanged himself in his garage March 16, saying in a note he left behind that the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft had made it impossible for him to make a living. It was the fourth suicide by a cab driver in New York in the last four months, including one Feb. 5 in which livery driver Douglas Schifter, 61, killed himself with a shotgun outside City Hall. “Due to the huge numbers of cars available with desperate drivers trying to feed their families,” wrote Schifter, “they squeeze rates to below operating costs and force professionals like me out of business. Schifter and Ochisor were two of the millions of victims of the new economy. Corporate capitalism is establishing a neofeudal serfdom in numerous occupations, a condition in which there are no labor laws, no minimum wage, no benefits, no job security and no regulations. Desperate and impoverished workers, forced to endure 16-hour days, are viciously pitted against each other. Uber drivers make about $13.25 an hour. In cities like Detroit this falls to $8.77. Travis Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber and one of the founders, has a net worth of $4.8 billion. Logan Green, the CEO of Lyft, has a net worth of $300 million. Uber and Lyft in 2016 had 370 active lobbyists in 44 states, “dwarfing some of the largest business and technology companies,” according to the National Employment Law Project. “Together, Uber and Lyft lobbyists outnumbered Amazon, Microsoft, and Walmart combined.” The two companies, like many lobbying firms, also hire former government regulators. The former head of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, for example, is now on the board of Uber. The companies have used their money and their lobbyists, most of whom are members of the Democratic Party, to free themselves from the regulations and oversight imposed on the taxi industry. The companies using ride-hail apps have flooded New York City with about 100,000 unregulated cars in the past two years. (Editor’s note: This article focuses on NY taxi drivers, Uber, and Lyft, but the situation is similar in many other industries – as are the anger, helplessness, and despair that come through in the reading.)
Why These Indian Millennials Are Choosing Arranged Marriage – (CNN – March 24, 2018)
Part of the complexities in Indian society stem from the rapid-fire changes the country has experienced. Historian Ramachandra Guha argues that India is undergoing not one but five revolutions simultaneously: economic, political, urban, social and cultural. All at once and at warp speed. Imagine the tension between centuries-old traditions and the torrents of change. Still, marriage the old-fashioned way seems to be enduring. Author Elizabeth Flock explored the lives of three married couples in Mumbai in her book The Heart is a Shifting Sea. Flock says she came away with a deep understanding of the hopes and fears of Indian couples. She expected that Western influences had wrought change, but she was proven wrong. Even though women are surrounded by ads and movies promoting love — obsessive, forbidden, impossible love that defies all societal expectations — Indian society is still not ready for all that, Flock says. A big reason: the stigmas that are still attached to marrying someone from a different faith or social class. “Premarital sex. Extramarital affairs. Women are testing the boundaries,” Flock adds. “But (society has) such a stranglehold on traditional marriage that I don’t think will change anytime soon.” Marriage in India is about devotion to another person. About caring, duty and sacrifice. An arranged marriage is based on a premise of permanence. It’s not based on love that someday might fade, but rather a contract that needs to be fulfilled. And if a woman is lucky, says Ishita Bhargave, love might show up along the way. Bhargave says, that she trusted her parents to look out for her. “Our parents know us as adults,” she says. “So they are able to find the right guy.” Besides, she adds: “It is convenient. It’s too much trouble to find the right person.” An arranged marriage is like hiring someone for a top government job and knowing exactly what you’re getting. The vetting is done before anyone signs on a dotted line. And it spares the woman from blame in case the marriage goes sour. As one young woman said, “Ultimately, if I have a problem five years down the line, I will turn to my parents.”
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
What Is Up with Those Pentagon UFO Videos? – (Wired – February 17, 2018)
On December 17, 2017, The New York Times printed a story, Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/16/us/politics/pentagon-program-ufo-harry-reid.html?_r=0 The article describes a federally funded program that investigated reports of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs, the take-me-seriously acronym that includes UFOs). And within the story, the Times embedded videos of two such UAPs. Although the article was careful not to say that unidentified meant extraterrestrial, the Department of Defense acknowledged the program, and it was easy enough for readers to draw the conclusion that these videos could show alien aircraft. The Times supplemented one of the clips with a first-hand account of a Navy pilot who was sent to investigate “mysterious aircraft” that appeared—poof!—at 80,000 feet, dropped down to 20,000, and then seemed to hover before either leaving radar range or launching straight up. The main source in the Times article was a former Pentagon employee named Luis Elizondo, who ran a small program called Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification from 2007 until it was shut down in 2012. What made the story Times-worthy was the fact that Elizondo’s account was vouched for by the man who’d arranged for its funding, former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, as well as by the billionaire donor who won the contract to manage the program, Robert Bigelow. The fact that the program really existed was the part that the Times touted as its big get, but what got people excited was the implication that the program had collected evidence of encounters with unidentified flying objects. In reporting this part of the story, reporters Helene Cooper, Ralph Blumenthal, and Leslie Kean were much less careful about maintaining a critical eye. The rest of the Wired article provides a careful deconstruction of the original Times piece – and taking a lot of wind out the UFO sails but certainly not debunking the Defense Department’s USP program or the possibility that there may be more there than is available to the public. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article because, among other things, it models a tightly constructed critical analysis of a news article – trace and confirm claimed sources, note statements that clearly invite the reader to make assumptions but do not actually say those things, etc. – that we would all do well to practice more of.)
The Milky Way Is Still Growing, Surprising Scientists – (Forbes – April 3, 2018)
Galaxies grow over time because the force of gravity is powerful enough to pull smaller galaxies, gas clouds, and star clusters into larger ones, even over distances of millions of light years. The Milky Way has likely devoured hundreds of smaller galaxies over its lifetime, and continues to absorb the dwarf satellites which surround us. But there’s a steadier, more subtle way that galaxies grow: by continuing to form stars from the gas already inside. While most of the stars that form will do so in the plane or central bulge of a spiral galaxy like our own, a new study has shown that galaxies also grow outward over time, meaning that their physical extent increases in space. The implication is that our own galaxy is increasing in size by 500 meters per second: growing by a light year every 600,000 years. Galaxies that interact with one another usually have large star-formation rates, while an isolated galaxy like the Milky Way is relatively quiet. It’s producing new stars, however. Even though approximately one new Sun’s mass worth of stars forms per year in our galaxy, they mostly occur in dense clouds in the galactic plane or, in smaller extents, in the central bulge.
The States Where Disease and Death Are Highest: A Visual Guide – (CNN – April 10, 2018)
A study published in the journal JAMA details just how wide state-by-state differences in the impact of diseases are when it comes to how diseases, injuries and risk factors impact America’s youth, adults and older populations. “The top five risk factors — diet, obesity, elevated blood pressure, tobacco and physical inactivity — explain an awful lot of the differences across states,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, a professor of global health at the University of Washington and director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, who was lead author of the study. “Why those causes are getting worse in some states and not getting worse in the other states, I think, deserves more investigation.” The researchers examined the data from 1990 to 2016, taking a close look at state-by-state trends and calculating the probability of death among three age groups: 0 to 20, 20 to 55 and 55 to 90. “It turned out that the trends in health — and in this case being measured by the chances of dying at different age groups — basically in all 50 states were improving in kids and adolescents and in people over age 55, but then in the ages between 20 and 55, you had the US going in two different directions,” Murray said. “You had complete divergent trends in those middle age groups, and that’s sort of surprising because usually, people think whatever is driving health would affect everybody pretty much the same,” he said. “The fact that we get these very divergent trends by state and age, I think, is really quite unusual.” Article contains extensive state by state data in graph form.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
This Material Uses Energy from Ambient Light to Kill Hospital Superbugs – (Science News – April 10, 2018)
About 1 in 10 patients worldwide get an infection while receiving treatment at a hospital or other health care facility, according to the World Health Organization. Ethel Koranteng, a chemist at University College London and colleagues developed a material to make hospital surfaces self-disinfecting. Naturally antimicrobial metals such as copper and steel are difficult to sculpt around uneven surfaces. But the new polymer-based material could be fashioned into a flexible film that covers computer keyboards, or molded into rigid, plastic-like casings that enclose phone handles, bedrails and other surfaces especially prone to contamination. Unlike other polymer-based antimicrobial coatings that rely on a spritz of water to release bug-killing particles, the new material is activated by overhead lighting. The covering is made of polyurethane embedded with tiny semiconductor nanoparticles called quantum dots and particles of a purple dye called crystal violet (SN: 7/11/15, p. 22). When the quantum dots absorb ambient light, they transfer some of that energy to nearby dye particles, causing the crystal violet to release a kind of high-energy oxygen molecule that kills microbes. In lab tests, the material killed 99.97% of MRSA, the strain of Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to methicillin and other antibiotics, and 99.85% of a multidrug-resistant strain of E. coli.
The Cambridge Analytica Data Apocalypse Was Predicted in 2007 – (Wired – March 25, 2018)
In the early 2000s, Alex Pentland was running the wearable computing group at the MIT Media Lab—the place where the ideas behind augmented reality and Fitbit-style fitness trackers got their start. By the middle of the decade, when people were massive social networks like Facebook were taking off, Pentland and his fellow social scientists were beginning to look at network and cell phone data to see how epidemics spread, how friends relate to each other, and how political alliances form. “We’d accidentally invented a particle accelerator for understanding human behavior,” says David Lazer, a data-oriented political scientist then at Harvard. “It became apparent to me that everything was changing in terms of understanding human behavior.” In late 2007 Lazer put together a conference entitled “Computational Social Science,” along with Pentland and other leaders in analyzing what people today call big data. Observation and prediction, if you get really good at them, lead to the ability to act upon the system and bring it to heel. It’s the same progress that leads from understanding heritability to sequencing DNA to genome editing, or from Newton to Einstein to GPS. That was the promise of Cambridge Analytica: to use computational social science to influence behavior. This article traces the history of the rise and use of big data sets. Pentland says the next frontier is microtargetting, when political campaigns and extremist groups sock-puppet social media accounts to make it seem like an entire community is spontaneously espousing similar beliefs. “That sort of persuasion, from people you think are like you having what appears to be a free opinion, is enormously effective,” Pentland says. “Advertising, you can ignore. Having people you think are like you have the same opinion is how fads, bubbles, and panics start.” For now it’s only working on edge cases, if at all. But next time? Or the time after that? Well, they did try to warn us.
The Mind-Expanding Ideas of Andy Clark – (The New Yorker – April 2, 2018)
Where does the mind end and the world begin? Is the mind locked inside its skull, sealed in with skin, or does it expand outward, merging with things and places and other minds that it thinks with? What if there are objects outside—a pen and paper, a phone—that serve the same function as parts of the brain, enabling it to calculate or remember? You might say that those are obviously not part of the mind, because they aren’t in the head, but that would be to beg the question. So are they or aren’t they? The idea of an extended mind has itself extended far beyond philosophy, which is why Clark is now, in his early sixties, one of the most-cited philosophers alive. His idea has inspired research in the various disciplines in the area of cognitive science (neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, A.I., robotics) and in distant fields beyond. In 1995, Andy Clark and David Chalmers wrote The Extended Mind. When the paper first circulated, in 1995, many found it outlandish. But, as the years passed, and better devices became available, and people started relying on their smartphones to bolster or replace more and more mental functions, Clark noticed that the idea of an extended mind had come to seem almost obvious. The paper became the most-cited philosophy paper of its decade. The philosopher Ned Block likes to say that the extended-mind thesis was false in 1995 but is true now. (Editor’s note: This article is a fascinating look at the evolution of theories concerning mind and consciousness. We recommend this article; this little blurb really doesn’t do it justice.)
Why America Is the World’s Most Uniquely Cruel Society – (Eudaimonia & Co. – February 19, 2018)
I (the author of this article) don’t mean America is “the most cruel society in the world”. Can we really ever judge that? But it is uniquely cruel — a kind of special example — in weird, needless, and singular ways. How – or why – did this come about? That is the question before us if we really want to understand America. I thought, once, it was about capitalism, patriarchy, race, once. But now I think that those are expressions of it, that something more primary, fundamental, and unique happened. America was a strange, improbable combination of things, singular in history. A Promised Land —but one for the despised. Waves upon waves of them washed up on its shores. First, the Puritans, mocked and loathed in England. Then peasants and farmers and outlaws from across Europe. Then Chinese, Japanese, Latinos, and today, Muslims. These emigrants all tended to share a common trait: they were at the very bottom, the lowest rung, of social and economic hierarchies in their own countries. All of them. That has changed a little recently — but America was founded by and for the despised, loathed, hated. People referred to as trash, nobodies, serfs, exiles, outcasts — who were never given an ounce of respect, dignity, or even belonging, in their societies of origin. So first the English and French settlers supposed that this New World was theirs (and began a kind of genocide against its natives). But it wasn’t just the natives that they came to hate, for threatening their natural right to this Promised Land. It was the next waves of settlers, too. The English settlers hated the French. The French hated the Germans. They all hated the Irish. The Irish hated the Italians. And so on. That much is historical fact. Each new tribe that came to this Promised Land brought the burden of being despised, subjugated, and oppressed with them. They were finally above someone else in a social hierarchy. They were not at the bottom anymore. But to be above requires someone else to be below. And so there was a constant battle for relative position within a growing hierarchy — hence, dominance, competition, conquest soon became the prized cultural values, norms, and institutional goals. Cruelty as a way of life was born. (Editor’s note: This article offers an interesting hypothesis – probably not the whole story, but worth considering.)
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
Rich People Will Soon Be Able to Buy Fake Meteor Showers on Demand – (BuzzFeed – March 25, 2018)
If everything works out, the night sky over Hiroshima, Japan, will fill with the graceful arcs of blue, green, and orange shooting stars sometime in the summer of 2019. The fireworks will come courtesy of a satellite some 220 miles high, owned by the world’s first “aerospace entertainment” firm, Astro Live Experiences, or ALE. The brainchild of University of Tokyo astronomer Lena Okajima, the spacecraft will circle the globe and kick out 15 to 20 small metallic pebbles on command. Those seeds, less than half an inch wide, will blaze overhead for a few bright seconds over the city of the buyer’s choice. Their customers could be cities, companies, amusement parks, the mega-rich — anyone who can pay for such a spectacular show. “We want to provide meteor showers on demand,” Josh Rodenbaugh, a member of ALE’s satellite operations team, said. Rodenbaugh declined to cite a specific cost, except to say that it would be less than the massive fireworks displays that major cities use to celebrate holidays. (Tokyo’s fireworks displays run around $40,000 a firework, according to Rodenbaugh. “We feel we can be under that number.” New York’s 4th of July festivities run around $6 million.) Originally conceived as an opening act for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the “Sky Canvas” project has blossomed into a glamorous harbinger of the new entrepreneurial era in space. But some satellite experts question the logic of launching a sandblaster into orbit, given the risk that its projectiles might collide with any of the thousands of satellites that space firms such as SpaceX will be adding to the same orbit.
Why Do We Sleep Under Blankets, Even on the Hottest Nights? – (Atlas Obscura – August 15, 2017)
Blankets are common, but not universal, to humans during sleep, at least in the modern day. Historically, the effort involved in weaving large sheets put blankets at much too high a price for most to afford. From the linen bedsheets of Egypt around 3500 B.C. to wool sheets during the Roman empire straight through to cotton in medieval Europe, bed coverings were for the wealthy. By the Early Modern period in Europe, which followed the Middle Ages, production had increased enough so that more middle-class people could afford bedding, though not easily. “The bed, throughout Western Europe at this time, was the most expensive item in the house,” says Roger Ekirch, a historian at Virginia Tech who has written extensively about sleep. “It was the first major item that a newly married couple, if they had the wherewithal, would invest in.” Only nomadic foragers regularly sleep without bed coverings. Everyone else uses some form of covering, whether that’s plant matter or woven fabric, even in central Africa and Papua New Guinea, both tropical climates. “The requirement for blankets takes on two components to it,” says Dr. Alice Hoagland, the director of the insomnia clinic at the Unity Sleep Disorder Center in Rochester, New York. “There’s a behavioral component and a physiological component.” The latter is a little more clear-cut, so let’s dive into that first.
JUST FOR FUN
Pics That Prove Your Parents Were Cooler Than You – (YouTube – October 4, 2017)
This is just what the title claims. And fun.
A FINAL QUOTE
The empires of the future are the empires of the mind. – Winston Churchill
A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Bobbie Rohn, Colleen Subramanian, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along – thanks.
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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