FUTURE FACTS – FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT–
- Radioactive dust deep beneath the ocean waves suggest that Earth has been moving through a massive cloud left behind by an exploded star for the last 33,000 years.
- Smart faucets may soon be able to dispense water at preprogrammed temperatures.
- The Pentagon is developing AI software intended to assume most of the functions currently performed by American generals and their senior staff officers.
- Truly enormous lava tubes on Mars and on the Moon might offer safer habitats than the lunar or Martian surfaces.
What if you could cure a sickness by humming a tune? Turns out you can!
Sharry Edwards and her BioAcoustics Institute have proven – with extraordinary success – that the right sounds can help you do “miracles,” both in terms of keeping you healthy and eliminating sickness.
I talked to Sharry Edwards the other day about her upcoming TransitionTalk and workshop. Listen to this fascinating woman!
If you can’t make it in person you may enjoy the livestream option. You will also have access to a replay that will be available for two weeks following the event! Click below for full information.
Voiceless Victims of the COVID Lockdowns – (Forbidden Knowledge – August 17, 2020)
Here Henna Maria makes an impassioned statement about the “sanitary dictatorship” that is strangling the world. She takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride that many of us may have been stuffing down, lo these many months. “Have you ever stopped to think what happens when you forcefully take the livelihoods out of hundreds of millions of people? You create generational consequences; a tidal wave of poverty… What do you do when everything gets taken away from you? That’s what’s being done… What about the people who are denied medical care and their non-COVID related treatments and surgeries were cancelled? Do you know that in Germany, alone 90% of all necessary operations were actually canceled during the pandemic. 90%! And this is now leading up to 125,000 individuals to die, as a consequence. These people are human beings, too. Who is defending their right to life and medical care? Who is listening to them? How many couples had to cancel their weddings? One of the most significant and amazing experiences of your life, gathering your family and loved ones together to celebrate your love. How many families had to organize a so-called “corona funeral”, where only a handful of people could gather to honor the life of a loved one lost because of sanitary dictatorship? How many artists, musicians, creatives have lost their careers, now as concerts, exhibitions and festivals are all considered a “non-essential” part of life.” Article is a video clip and includes a full transcript.
This Is Not a Normal Mental-Health Disaster – (Atlantic – July 7, 2020)
The novel coronavirus’s devastating hopscotch across the United States has long surpassed the three-month mark, and by all indications, it will not end anytime soon. If SARS is any lesson, the secondary health effects will long outlast the pandemic itself. Already, a third of Americans are feeling severe anxiety, according to Census Bureau data, and nearly a quarter show signs of depression. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the pandemic had negatively affected the mental health of 56% of adults. In April, texts to a federal emergency mental-health line were up 1,000% from the year before. The situation is particularly dire for certain vulnerable groups—health-care workers, COVID-19 patients with severe cases, people who have lost loved ones—who face a significant risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. Most people are resilient after disasters, and only a small percentage develop chronic conditions. But in a nation of 328 million, small percentages become large numbers when translated into absolute terms. And in a nation where, even under ordinary circumstances, fewer than half of the millions of adults with a mental illness receive treatment, those large numbers are a serious problem. A wave of psychological stress unique in its nature and proportions is bearing down on an already-ramshackle American mental-health-care system. Most disasters affect cities or states, occasionally regions. Even after a catastrophic hurricane, for example, normalcy resumes a few hundred miles away. Not so in a pandemic, says Joe Ruzek, a longtime PTSD researcher at Stanford University and Palo Alto University: “In essence, there are no safe zones any more.” Steven Taylor, a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia and the author of The Psychology of Pandemics, worries that the virus will cause significant upticks in obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, and germaphobia, not to mention possible neuropsychiatric effects, such as chronic fatigue syndrome.
Plandemic II – Indoctornation – (Brighteon – August 18, 2020)
This documentary tracks a three decade-long money trail that leads directly to the key players behind the COVID 19 pandemic. Plandemic II connects the dots between all forms of media, the medical industry, politics and the financial industry to unmask the major conflicts of interests with the decision makers that are currently managing this crisis.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston Announces Collaboration with MIT to Research Digital Currency – (BostonFed – August 13, 2020)
The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston today announced a multiyear collaboration with the Digital Currency Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to perform technical research related to a central bank digital currency (CBDC). The research project will explore the use of existing and new technologies to build and test a hypothetical digital currency platform. The Boston Fed and MIT have structured the research collaboration into work phases that extend over two to three years. The first phase will involve jointly building and testing a hypothetical central bank digital currency for wide-scale, general purpose use. The objective in this phase will be to determine how to architect a scalable, accessible cryptographic platform to meet the needs of a theoretical U.S. dollar CBDC, including stringent design requirements for speed, security, privacy and resiliency. In later phases, researchers will assess technology trade-offs by coding and testing various architectures, to see how they impact the CBDC’s design goals. The research results will be published jointly with MIT, and the code would be licensed as open-source software, so anyone can use or continue experimenting with it. In parallel to the work with researchers at MIT, the Boston Fed will independently evaluate other systems to understand their potential pros and cons in supporting a central bank digital currency. Before any CBDC could be issued, a separate, extensive policy process would be required.
An Unusual Meteorite, More Valuable Than Gold, May Hold the Building Blocks of Life – (Science – August 13, 2020)
Every year, tens of thousands survive the plunge through Earth’s atmosphere. More than 60,000 have been found and classified by scientists. But meteorite falls, witnessed strikes that take their name from where they land, are rare—just 1196 have been documented. And even among that exclusive group, there was something extraordinary about this particular meteorite. The dull stone that fell in Aguas Zarcas, Costa Rica on April 23, 2019 was, as far as rocks go, practically alive. It contained carbonaceous chondrite, a pristine remnant of the early Solar System. The vast majority of meteorites are lumps of stone or metal. But true to their name, carbonaceous chondrites are rich in carbon—and not just boring, inorganic carbon, but also organic molecules as complex as amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. They illustrate how chemical reactions in space give rise to complex precursors for life; some scientists even believe rocks like that ones that fell in Aguas Zarcas gave life a nudge when they crashed into a barren Earth 4.5 billion years ago. These new pieces are 50 years fresher than any previously landed meteorite, allowing scientists to apply modern techniques to preserve and probe what amounts to fragile lumps of unspeakably old clay. They could sniff out delicate organic compounds long evaporated from older ones. They could hunt not just for amino acids and sugars, but also proteins, which have long been suspected but never confirmed in a meteorite. And if they were clean and careful, they could hedge against a perennial criticism by ensuring the molecules discovered inside were native, and not contamination from Earth’s own microbes.
Mass Extinction May Have Been Caused by Near-Earth Supernova – (ExtremeTech – August 24, 2020)
The late Devonian extinction is one of the five major extinction events to have occurred on Earth. It’s not unusual for scientists to argue over what causes a mass extinction event — of the five, the only one we’ve decisively pinned down is the Cretaceous-Paleogene. The Late Devonian, however, is weird even by the standards of other extinctions. It looks like a protracted decline in speciation that persists for about ten million years, with an opening extinction pulse (the Kellwasser event) followed by a closing pulse (the Hangenberg event) for the era about 358.9 million years ago. Now, a new theory suggests that the Devonian extinction might be tied to multiple supernovas going off in fairly close proximity to Earth. This new work is based on the discovery of large numbers of burned plant spores in Greenland. This type of damage is typically caused by UV-B light — a type of light typically blocked by our ozone layer. In order to produce this kind of damage, however, the ozone layer would have had to take massive damage, and the damage would have needed to persist for a very long time. A supernova — or multiple supernovas — going off at a distance of ~65 light-years, however, would do that. A supernova pointed at us from that distance could bathe the planet in ozone-destroying cosmic rays for 100,000 years. The authors note that if this theory is accurate, we should be able to find evidence of it. There are certain isotopes deposited by supernova eruptions that we should still be able to find in deep fossil deposits, even after so many hundreds of millions of years. The length of the Devonian extinction event is part of what makes it interesting — there are relatively few events that might plausibly produce this set of outcomes, and the supernova option appears to be an unexplored idea.
Earth Appears to Be Travelling Through the Debris of Ancient Supernovae – (Science Alert – August 24, 20200
Adding further possibility to the article above: Radioactive dust deep beneath the ocean waves suggest that Earth is moving through a massive cloud left behind by an exploded star. Continuously, for the last 33,000 years, space has been seeding Earth with a rare isotope of iron forged in supernovae. It’s not the first time that the isotope, known as iron-60, has dusted our planet. But it does contribute to a growing body of evidence that such dusting is ongoing – that we are still moving through an interstellar cloud of dust that could have originated from a supernova millions of years ago. Iron-60 has been the focus of several studies over the years. It has a half-life of 2.6 million years, which means it completely decays after 15 million years – so any samples found here on Earth must have been deposited from elsewhere, since there’s no way any iron-60 could have survived from the formation of the planet 4.6 billion years ago. And deposits have been found. Nuclear physicist Anton Wallner of the Australian National University previously dated seabed deposits back to 2.6 million and 6 million years ago, suggesting that debris from supernovae had rained down on our planet at these times. But there’s more recent evidence of this stardust – much more recent. It’s been found in the Antarctic snow; according to the evidence, it had to have fallen in the last 20 years.
Earth’s Building Blocks May Have Had Far More Water Than Previously Thought – (Science News – August 27, 2020)
Earth’s deep stores of water may have been locally sourced rather than trucked in from far-flung regions of the solar system. A new analysis of meteorites from the inner solar system — home to the four rocky planets — suggests that Earth’s building blocks delivered enough water to account for all the H2O buried within the planet. What’s more, the water produced by the local primordial building material likely shares a close chemical kinship with Earth’s deep-water reserves, thus strengthening the connection, researchers report. Earth is thought to have been born in an interplanetary desert, too close to the sun for water ice to survive. Many researchers suspect that ocean water got delivered toward the end of Earth’s formation by ice-laden asteroids that wandered in from cooler, more distant regions of the solar system. To test whether or not the material that formed Earth could have delivered this deep water, cosmochemist Laurette Piani of the University of Lorraine in France and colleagues analyzed meteorites known as enstatite chondrites. Thanks to many chemical similarities with Earth rocks, these relatively rare meteorites are widely thought to be good analogs of the dust and space rocks from the inner solar system that formed Earth’s building blocks, Piani says. he and her team measured the abundance of hydrogen in these meteorites — a proxy for how much H2O they could produce — and calculated that local interplanetary debris had the potential to deliver at least three times as much water as is found in all the oceans. The meteorites don’t contain water, Piani says. Rather, they house enough of the raw ingredients to create water when heated.
GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY
How Bacteria-Eating Bacteria Could Help Win the War Against Germs – (New York Times – August 25, 2020)
Predatory bacteria were discovered by accident. Scientists stumbled upon them more than a half-century ago while hunting for another type of murderous microbe called a bacteriophage, or phage, a virus that can infect and kill bacteria. Before then, it was not known that a bacterium would prey on other bacteria in this fashion. That predatory bacteria eluded detection for so long is somewhat surprising. Many dozens of species teem in the seas and in clods of dirt. They are thought to be hardy enough to weather animal guts, including our own, and seem to persist everywhere from raw sewage to the gills of crabs. Deployed under the right circumstances, they could help people beat back harmful microbes in the environment, or purge pathogens from the food supply. Some experts think they could someday serve as a sort of living therapeutic that could help clear drug-resistant germs from ailing patients in whom all other treatments have failed. But even the small community of researchers who study predatory bacteria have not fully figured out how these cells select and slaughter their hosts. Teasing out those answers could reveal a range of ways to tackle stubborn infections, and provide a window onto predator-prey dynamics at their most microscopic. To potentially use this group of microbes as “a living antibiotic, we need to know how it grows,” said Terrens Saaki, a microbiologist studying predatory bacteria at the de Duve Institute in Belgium. “We can’t use it if we don’t understand it.” Some evidence suggests that healthy human beings usually have predatory bacteria as part of their microbiome. Little is understood about their role. But they likely maintain order in the gut and ensure that no single species runs amok. (Editor’s note: We recommend this article just because it is fascinating.)
Jellyfish Sprite – (Twitter – August 12, 2020)
An immense Jellyfish Sprite briefly appeared above a distant thunderstorm on July 2nd, 2020. Sprites are large electrical discharges associated with lightning strikes, and occur high above storms in the mesophere and lower ionosphere. This really happens on Earth? Whoa. Check out the photo posted by the McDonald Observatory, a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin located in the Davis Mountains of West Texas.
750 Million Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes Approved for Release in Florida Keys – (CNN – August 19, 2020)
A plan to release over 750 million genetically modified mosquitoes into the Florida Keys in 2021 and 2022 received final approval from local authorities, against the strong objection of many local residents and a coalition of environmental advocacy groups. The proposal had already won state and federal approval. The pilot project is designed to test if a genetically modified mosquito is a viable alternative to spraying insecticides to control the Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito that carries several deadly diseases, such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. The mosquito, named OX5034, has been altered to produce female offspring that die in the larval stage, well before hatching and growing large enough to bite and spread disease. Only the female mosquito bites for blood, which she needs to mature her eggs. Males feed only on nectar, and are thus not a carrier for disease. The mosquito is also approved to be released into Harris County, Texas, beginning in 2021, according to Oxitec, the US-owned, British-based company that developed the genetically modified organism (GMO). “The administration has used tax dollars and government resources for a Jurassic Park experiment,” said Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the International Center for Technology Assessment and Center for Food Safety. ” What could possibly go wrong? We don’t know, because EPA unlawfully refused to seriously analyze environmental risks,[and] now without further review of the risks, the experiment can proceed.”
A Stupendously Huge Raft of Volcanic Rock Has Floated Across the Ocean to Australia – (Science Alert – August 20, 2020)
A gigantic fleet of floating rocks, spewed up from an underwater volcano in the Pacific Ocean, floated across the waves for thousands of miles. Eventually, it made it all the way to Australia, then started on a new project: revitalizing the world’s largest (and very threatened) coral reef system. This unlikely chain of events may sound somewhat incredible, but it’s an entirely true story – one that has played out dramatically over the last year, while highlighting the surprising, largely unseen ways in which Earth’s natural environmental systems intersect with one another. Stranger still, it’s not the first time this has happened. An eruption in 2001 from the same submarine seamount – a nameless volcano, simply dubbed Volcano F or 0403-091, located near the Vavaʻu islands in Tonga – produced a similar rocky flotilla, which also voyaged on the currents to Australia over the space of a year. When this phenomenon occurs, it creates what’s called a pumice raft – a floating platform composed of countless chunks of buoyant and highly porous volcanic rock. Each one of these small rocks attracts marine organisms, including algae, barnacles, corals, and more. These tiny travellers end up hitching a ride across the ocean, and they can help seed and replenish endangered coral systems at their ultimate destination: for many, the Great Barrier Reef.
The Atlantic Ocean Contains at Least 10 Times More Plastic Pollution Than Previously Estimated – (Nation of Change – August 21, 2020)
A recent study by the National Oceanography Center (NOC), found there is at least 10 times more plastic in the Atlantic than previously thought. The mass of ‘invisible’ microplastics found in the upper waters of the Atlantic Ocean is approximately 12- 21 million tonnes (13.23 – 23.15 U.S. tons). “Previously, we couldn’t balance the mass of floating plastic we observed with the mass we thought had entered the ocean since 1950. This is because earlier studies hadn’t been measuring the concentrations of ‘invisible’ microplastic particles beneath the ocean surface. Our research is the first to have done this across the entire Atlantic, from the UK to the Falklands,” says lead author of the paper, Dr. Katsiaryna Pabortsava. This study, however, only measured the three most common types of microplastic in the upper levels of the ocean. The researchers estimate that the Atlantic’s total plastic load is closer to 200 million tonnes (approximately 220.4 million U.S. tons). That is much higher than the previous estimate of 17 million to 47 million tonnes (approximately 19 to 52 million U.S. tons) of plastic released into the Atlantic between 1950 and 2015.
With Virtual Reality, Caregivers Can Become Patients – (New York Times – August 19, 2020)
If we could step into the world of someone who is aging, could that help health care providers be more effective? The evolving technology of virtual reality helps answer that question. Four years ago, Carrie Shaw started Embodied Labs, with her sister, Erin Washington. Together, they had cared for their mother who was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 49. The company’s software allows users to peer into the body and mind of someone confronted with aging issues: cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s, age-related vision and hearing loss, or neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and dementia. The goal is to give users, including medical students, nurses, certified nursing assistants, assisted-living staff members and family caregivers, a better understanding of the challenges facing aging adults with these diseases or impairments through a first-person patient perspective. Medical students, for example, can use the Embodied Labs V.R. headset and computer software to tap into an immersive visual experience in which the student virtually enters the world of Beatriz, a middle-age woman, as she advances through a decade of Alzheimer’s disease. In another program, users embody Alfred, a 74-year-old man with high frequency hearing loss and age-related macular degeneration. The idea is to show that hearing and vision loss can make someone appear to have cognitive impairment although they do not.
Yes, We Are Living in a Computer Simulation – (New York Times – August 19, 2020)
Microsoft has just released a new version of Flight Simulator, an institution in the gaming world that made its debut in 1982, back in the primordial age of video games. The update was meant to show off the what’s possible in computing — in particular, how the increasing fidelity of virtual worlds might alter how we understand the “real” one. The tech giant has done something uncanny here: It has created a virtual representation of Earth so realistic that nearly all sense of abstraction falls away. What you are left with, instead, is the feeling of actually being there — in which “there” is just about anywhere, from London to Seattle to Patagonia and every point in between. Everything in Flight Simulator is meant to be as close to the physical Earth as possible — the buildings, the airports, the avionics, the airplanes, and even the weather. If you set the game to fly a Boeing 787 Dreamliner from San Francisco to New York right now, you will experience wind of the same direction and intensity that a pilot taking off from San Francisco would feel right now. You will see other planes in the sky just where they are in the sky right now; you will see houses (maybe even yours) and other landmarks of the same size, scale and color as they exist in wood and steel. But the new Flight Sim is more than a technical achievement or a marketing demo. In a way that I have never before felt from a piece of software, the game plunged me into sustained meditations on the permeability between the real world and the online one — and it offered me some hope of a more realistic kind of online life in the future. At the moment, much of what happens online seems to be diverging from what happens offline. It often feels like society is being shaped by the algorithmically defined sensibilities of online echo chambers and anonymous bots and trolls rather than the nuanced ideas of living and breathing people. But now, computers can give us something different — a view of the world that is more real than the one we can see outside, a picture that illuminates our understanding of reality rather than hides it under abstractions. See also: An innocent typo led to a giant 212-story obelisk in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
A Glimpse of the Shiny, Ritzy Bathroom of Tomorrow – (Wired – August 27, 2020)
The bathroom of the future, like the anything of the future, will have a brain of its own. We specifically liked Kohler’s Verdera Voice lighted mirror, equipped with Amazon’s Alexa. And if fixture company Moen has its way, your bathroom faucets may soon be smart enough to dispense water at preprogrammed temperatures. It is almost irrelevant that some skin-care products last longer when kept chilled, according to San Diego dermatologist Melanie Palm, because the sensation of applying cooled liquid to skin feels so soothing. Enter built-in skin-care fridges, like Perlick’s 15-inch chilled drawer. And don’t forget the fitness training wall with your choice of fitness attachments such as traction bars.
See Ikea’s First Collaboration with Lego. – (Fast Company – August 27, 2020)
Kids adore Lego, spending hours building entire worlds with the tiny plastic bricks. But to the consternation of parents around the world, the toys can end up littering the entire home, their sharp edges hurting your feet whenever you stumble upon one. The designers worked with child psychologists, who pointed out that children don’t necessarily see a pile of bricks on the floor as a mess; they see it as a creative environment and a series of projects in progress. This clashes with parents’ desire for order and organization. Ikea’s goal was to find a way to solve a problem for both parents and children. Their solution: Ikea partnered with Lego to create a storage system that doubles as a play structure. The new storage solution, called Bygglek, is deceptively simple. The white boxes come in four sizes and are designed to store hundreds of bricks. The ingenious part is that their tops and interiors are covered in Lego studs, so they can easily be stacked or built upon. (It also makes it easy to move the entire structure.)
Hydrogen as Fuel? An Italian Pasta Factory Shows How It Could Work – (New York Times – May 27, 2020)
Mixing hydrogen and pasta-making is a gambit in a multifaceted campaign by Marco Alverà, the chief executive of Snam, an operator of natural gas networks in Italy and across Europe. Snam, whose Italian operations are valued at 20 billion euros, or about $21.9 billion, chose an industrial area that is home to Orogiallo, a pasta company, for an early trial. Mr. Alverà has embraced hydrogen as a clean substitute for natural gas. Hydrogen has some major virtues. It is emissions-free and, he hopes, can be carried in Snam’s existing 25,000-mile web of transmission lines. When used as a fuel, hydrogen’s only byproduct is water. But the most common way to produce hydrogen requires fossil fuels, themselves heavy emitters, which would zero out the benefits of hydrogen use. There are clean ways to make hydrogen, with renewable energy — but then why not just use those clean energy sources as fuel on their own? The answer is storage. Excess renewable energy from wind and sun is often wasted. Using it to create hydrogen, which can be saved for later, is like having a large, relatively cheap battery, advocates say. Despite concerns about safety and cost, hydrogen could win a substantial portion of the energy market of the future and become a winning ticket for Snam. The company estimates that in three decades, about a quarter of Italy’s energy could come from hydrogen.
Seaweed: The Food and Fuel of the Future? – (BBC News – August 27, 2020)
The cold water around the Faroe Islands is good for seaweed cultivation. Despite the Danish territory’s remote North Atlantic location, Mr.Gregarsen the managing director of Ocean Rainforest, a seaweed producer, says the deep, nutrient-rich, waters are well suited for growing seaweed, with a stable temperature of between 6C and 11C (approximately 43F and 52F). His firm is among a wave of seaweed farms that have sprung up in Europe and North America, spurred by a growing demand from the food industry and others. Seaweeds are fast-growing algae that utilize energy from sunlight, and take up nutrients and carbon dioxide from the seawater. Scientists suggest seaweed could help fight climate change and offset carbon emissions. Ocean Rainforest recently won funding from the US Department of Energy to build a similar system in California, where there’s interest in developing industrialized seaweed production for future biofuels. This year around 200 tonnes (220 US tons) will be harvested. The company is scaling up, and plans to double its capacity this year. It isn’t making money just yet, but expects to soon, according to Mr. Gregarsen. “We can see how we can mechanize this, how we can make this a really large-scale efficient activity,” he says. “There are not many companies that do this as a profitable business, if any.” Most farmed seaweed is consumed in food, but extracts are used in a wide variety of products. Whether it is toothpaste, cosmetics, medicines or pet food, these often contain hydrocolloids derived from seaweed, which have gelling or thickening properties.
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
Satellite Photos Appear to Show Chinese Submarine Using Underground Base – (CNN – August 21, 2020)
Military watchers across the internet were provided with a rare sight after photos circulated this week that appear to show a Chinese submarine using an underground base on Hainan Island on the South China Sea. The satellite image from American imaging company Planet Labs, first posted on the social media accounts of Radio Free Asia, shows what appears to be a Type 093 nuclear-powered attack submarine entering a tunnel to an underground berth on Yulin Naval Base. It immediately drew comparisons to what might be seen in a spy movie, with one Twitter user just posting the words “Bond, James Bond” in reaction to the photo. Drew Thompson, a former United States Defense Department official now at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, says the shot of the submarine is a rare occurrence. What’s not unusual is the Chinese underground base. It’s how Beijing conceals a lot of its military hardware, from submarines to missile systems based far inland, Thompson said. “The Chinese have tremendous experience building underground facilities,” Thompson said. “It’s in keeping with their strategic culture. The bottom line is they have a large and growing submarine fleet which is improving in quality.”
AI Beats Human in Mock Dogfights – (AVweb – August 23, 2020)
An artificial intelligence algorithm beat an “experienced” F-16 pilot in five straight simulated dogfights in a project designed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on Aug. 20. The pilot was up against an AI system named Heron and the two duked it out in a Second World War-style forward firing gun battle. The human didn’t score a single hit. Heron, which was developed by Heron Systems, competed against five other AI algorithms for the right to fight the human in a computer simulation. While significant, the milestone is an early one in DARPA’s goal to develop a machine-learning enhancement to human performance with the ultimate goal of “a future in which AI handles the split-second maneuvering during within-visual-range dogfights, keeping pilots safer and more effective as they orchestrate large numbers of unmanned systems into a web of overwhelming combat effects.”
Robot Generals – Will They Make Better Decisions Than Humans — Or Worse? – (Tom Dispatch – August 25, 2020)
With Covid-19 incapacitating startling numbers of U.S. service members and modern weapons proving increasingly lethal, the American military is relying ever more frequently on intelligent robots to conduct hazardous combat operations. Such devices, known in the military as “autonomous weapons systems,” include robotic sentries, battlefield-surveillance drones, and autonomous submarines. So far, in other words, robotic devices are merely replacing standard weaponry on conventional battlefields. Now, however, in a giant leap of faith, the Pentagon is seeking to take this process to an entirely new level — by replacing not just ordinary soldiers and their weapons, but potentially admirals and generals with robotic systems. Admittedly, those systems are still in the development stage, but the Pentagon is now rushing their future deployment as a matter of national urgency. Every component of a modern general staff — including battle planning, intelligence-gathering, logistics, communications, and decision-making — is, according to the Pentagon’s latest plans, to be turned over to complex arrangements of sensors, computers, and software. All these will then be integrated into a “system of systems,” now dubbed the Joint All-Domain Command-and-Control, or JADC2 (since acronyms remain the essence of military life). Eventually, that amalgam of systems may indeed assume most of the functions currently performed by American generals and their senior staff officers.
TRENDS OF GOVERNANCE
Half a Pulitzer Prize to the Wall Street Journal – (Unz Review – August 23, 2020)
Superb journalist resources unshackled by extreme “political correctness” allow an outstanding product, and this has certainly been demonstrated by the Wall St. Journal‘s regular front-page investigative reports. A few days ago, our continuing Covid-19 disaster prompted yet another of these, which I think lacked only a few crucial elements to be worthy of a Pulitzer Prize. Numerous publications have documented America’s severe mistakes in combating the disease, but this 4,500 word WSJ report focused upon the serious mishandling of the original outbreak by Chinese authorities. But the Journal writers seem to have missed one additional fact that could have elevated this important story from a mundane investigation to a sensational expose. Although they documented that the Chinese government only learned of the Wuhan outbreak at the end of December, they seemed unaware that more than a month earlier American intelligence officials had distributed a secret report to our military allies describing the “cataclysmic” disease outbreak then underway in Wuhan. Earlier this month, an
ABC News story cited four separate government sources to reveal that as far back as late November, a special medical intelligence unit within our Defense Intelligence Agency had produced a report warning that an out-of-control disease epidemic was occurring in the Wuhan area of China, and widely distributed that document throughout the top ranks of our government, warning that steps should be taken to protect US forces based in Asia. After the story aired, a Pentagon spokesman officially denied the existence of that November report, while various other top level government and intelligence officials refused to comment. But a few days later, Israeli television mentioned that in November American intelligence had indeed shared such a report on the Wuhan disease outbreak with its NATO and Israeli allies. It therefore appears that elements of the Defense Intelligence Agency were aware of the deadly viral outbreak in Wuhan more than a month before any officials in the Chinese government itself. Unless our intelligence agencies have pioneered the technology of precognition, this may have happened for the same reason that arsonists have the earliest knowledge of future fires.
From Lockdown to Police State: The “Great Reset” Rolls Out – (Web of Debt Blog – August 22, 2020)
On August 2, lockdown measures were implemented in Melbourne, Australia, that were so draconian that Australian news commentator Alan Jones said on Sky News: “People are entitled to think there is an ‘agenda to destroy western society.’” The gist of an August 13th article on the Melbourne lockdown is captured in the title: “Australian Police Go FULL NAZI, Smashing in Windows of Civilian Cars Just Because Passengers Wouldn’t Give Details About Where They Were Going.” Another article with an arresting title was by Guy Burchell in the August 7th Australian National Review: “Melbourne Cops May Now Enter Homes Without a Warrant, After 11 People Die of COVID — Australia, This Is Madness, Not Democracy.” Burchell wrote that only 147 people had lost their lives to coronavirus in Victoria (the Australian state of which Melbourne is the capital), a very low death rate compared to other countries. The ramped up lockdown measures were triggered by an uptick in cases due to ramped up testing and 11 additional deaths, all of them in nursing homes (where lockdown measures would actually have little effect). The new rules include a six week curfew from 8 PM to 5 AM, with residents allowed to leave home outside those curfew hours only to shop for food and essential items (one household member only), and for caregiving, work and exercise (limited to one hour). “But the piece de resistance,” writes Burchell, “has to be that now police officers can enter homes with neither a warrant nor permission. This is an astonishing violation of civil liberties…. Deaths of this kind are not normally cause for government action, let alone the effective house arrest of an entire city.” He quoted Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews, who told Victorians, “there is literally no reason for you to leave your home and if you were to leave your home and not be found there, you will have a very difficult time convincing Victoria police that you have a lawful reason.” See also this article from the American Herald Tribune:Lockdowns, Coronavirus, and Banks: Following the Money.
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Half of Singles Don’t Want a Relationship or Even a Date – (Psychology Today – August 21, 2020)
A just-released report from the Pew Research Center sends a dagger straight through the heart of a popular mythology—the one that insists that what single people want, more than anything else, is to become coupled. So untrue. The findings, based on a national, random sampling of nearly 5,000 adults in the U.S., showed that 50% of single people are not interested in a committed romantic relationship and they are not even interested in a date. Another 10% want nothing more than casual dates. Twenty-six percent would be interested in casual dates or a committed romantic relationship. Just 14% are looking only for a serious romantic relationship. Just about every time the Census Bureau releases its latest figures, we learn that there are even more single people than there were the year before. More women than men have no interest in romantic relationships or dating. The difference becomes even greater at older ages. At ages 40 and above, 71% are completely uninterested in dating or romantic relationships, compared to 42% of men. A previous Pew report made the remarkable prediction that by the time today’s young adults reach the age of 50, about one in four of them will have been single their entire lives. That’s a cohort of 50-year-olds in which 25% have never been married. The phenomenon is not specific to the U.S. or to Western nations. In many countries all around the world, rates of marriage are also headed downhill.
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Entire Cities Could Fit Inside the Moon’s Monstrous Lava Tubes – (Science – August 15, 2020)
Mars is pockmarked with absolutely massive lava tubes, with ceilings as high as the Empire State Building, new research shows. And the moon hosts even more gargantuan tubes, with heights that dwarf Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and “skylights” as big as football fields. These yawning, subterranean caverns, which are shielded from punishing solar radiation, could be used as sites for future human bases, scientists argue. A lava tube is a tunnel under a world’s surface, formed by an intense flow of molten rock during a volcanic explosion. On Earth, they’re most easily spotted when they collapse, forming long furrows in the dirt. Partial collapses sometimes form chains of “skylights” that reveal hidden lava tubes that are mostly intact. Researchers have speculated that lava tubes might exist on Mars and the moon since the 1960s, but in recent years Martian and lunar orbiters have beamed home images showing how common these formations likely are, both on the Red Planet and on our moon. These lava tubes are truly enormous, and might offer safer habitats than the lunar or Martian surfaces. Researchers argue in a paper published in the journal Earth-Science Reviews that it’s time to explore them in earnest.
The International Space Station Is Leaking Air Again – (Science Alert – August 21, 2020)
The International Space Station (ISS), in Earth orbit at hundreds of kilometers altitude, is not perfectly airtight. Every day, the cabin loses a minute amount of air, monitored carefully so that a liveable atmospheric pressure can be maintained, and to identify leaks. Now the latter has come to pass, just two years after the last leak. The rate of air loss on the station has risen above a level that can be explained by the normal ISS day-to-day, according to a NASA blog post. Mission control first noticed something awry in September of 2019, but the increase in air leakage was slight – not enough to cause serious concern. Now that rate has increased, so they’re buckling in to find out where the extra air is escaping. Tracking down such leaks can be challenging because of the normal air pressure fluctuations inside the space station. In addition to the normal leak rate, the pressure also changes due to temperature fluctuations, as well as routine station operations, such as spacewalks and the arrival and departure of resupply spacecraft. The current ISS crew is not in any danger.
Interstellar Visitor ‘Oumuamua Could Still Be Alien Technology, New Study Hints – (Space.com – August 24, 2020)
‘Oumuamua — a mysterious, interstellar object that crashed through our solar system two years ago — might in fact be alien technology. That’s because an alternative, non-alien explanation might be fatally flawed, as a new study argues. But most scientists think the idea that we spotted alien technology in our solar system is a long shot. In 2018, our solar system ran into an object lost in interstellar space. The object, dubbed ‘Oumuamua, seemed to be long and thin — cigar-shaped — and tumbling end over end. Then, close observations showed it was accelerating, as if something were pushing on it. Scientists still aren’t sure why. One explanation? The object was propelled by an alien machine, such as a lightsail — a wide, millimeter-thin machine that accelerates as it’s pushed by solar radiation. The main proponent of this argument was Avi Loeb, a Harvard University astrophysicist. Most scientists, however, think ‘Oumuamua’s wonky acceleration was likely due to a natural phenomenon. In June, a research team proposed that solid hydrogen was blasting invisibly off the interstellar object’s surface and causing it to speed up. Now, in a new paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Loeb and Thiem Hoang, an astrophysicist at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, argue that the hydrogen hypothesis couldn’t work in the real world — which would mean that there is still hope that our neck of space was once visited by advanced aliens — and that we actually spotted their presence at the time.
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
Concrete, a Centuries Old Material, Gets a New Recipe – (New York Times – August 11, 2020)
Concrete is the most widely used construction material on the planet. It is also responsible for about 8% of global carbon emissions. If concrete were a country, it would rank third in emissions behind China and the United States. In the United States alone, 370 million cubic yards of concrete was produced last year, with nearly 40% of it going into commercial real estate, according to the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, a trade group. U.S. Concrete, a manufacturer based in Texas, is making progress tackling the problem: Low-emission concrete makes up 70% of the material the company produces annually, up from 20% in the early 2000s. The plant’s push to decarbonize “has really accelerated in the last three years,” said Herb Burton, vice president and general manager of U.S. Concrete’s west region. Guiding this effort is U.S. Concrete’s national research laboratory at the plant in San Jose. Before climate change became a pressing issue, concrete producers sought to reduce the amount of cement in their mixes to reduce cost, in part because of the energy-intensive heating in producing it. Decades ago, they began substituting some of the cement with cheaper fly ash, a byproduct of coal-burning plants, and slag, a byproduct of steel production. Using such materials had the added benefit of diverting them from landfills, and they were also found to improve concrete’s performance. Only in recent years has concrete with fly ash and slag been promoted as a greener product. But with coal plants being retired, fly ash is not as plentiful as it once was and the decline of steel production in some parts of the country has made slag scarcer. The shortages have set off price increases for these materials, adding to the urgency of experimentation with alternative concrete mixes.
Europe Tried to Limit Mass Layoffs, But the Cuts Are Coming Anyway – (New York Times – August 24, 2020)
A tsunami of job cuts is about to hit Europe as companies prepare to carry out sweeping downsizing plans to offset a collapse in business from the outbreak. Government-backed furlough schemes that have helped keep around a third of Europe’s work force financially secure are set to unwind in the coming months. As many as 59 million jobs are at risk of cuts in hours or pay, temporary furloughs, or permanent layoffs, especially in industries like transportation and retail, according to a study by McKinsey & Company. “Executives are realizing that the damage is going to last for much longer than you can survive on government support programs, so they are restructuring now,” said Sebastian Stern, a senior partner at McKinsey in Germany and a co-author of the report on the employment impact of the pandemic. About nine million European workers are in what the German bank Allianz has called “zombie jobs” — positions in the auto and airline industries, restaurants, shops and hotels and other sectors ill equipped to confront shifting consumer behavior. Many of these jobs are still on the books almost solely because of government subsidies, the bank said. Adecco is Europe’s largest temporary employment agency, whose main business includes working with companies and labor unions to carry out restructuring plans. “We see a huge wave of restructuring coming, especially in Germany, France and the United States,” said Christophe Catoir, Adecco’s president for France and Northern Europe. “In September, October and November we will probably register an additional one million unemployed in France alone — not just people in short-term work, but high-skilled people.” See also: Two Major US Airlines Have Announced Massive Layoffs.
PROVOCATIVE NEW IDEAS
Here’s the Famous 1895 Eighth-grade Test from Kansas. See How You Would Do. – (Washington Post – October 16, 2015)
An 1895 test from Saline County, Kansas, has been the subject of numerous articles and blog posts over more than a decade, discussing its authenticity and the student cohort for which it was written. A copy of the original test resides in the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, Kansas. The exam itself does not say it is an eighth-grade graduation test but the Genealogical Society says it was, and that the names of students who took it are also stored there. Kansas is an agricultural state and 8th grade was as far as many children went in school at that time. It was a 5 hour test with six sections: grammar, arithmetic, U.S. history, orthography, geography, and physiology. The Smoky Valley Genealogical Society and Library has this note on its website about the exam: The names of the children who took the exam and their scores are on file in the Saline County Courthouse. Due to privacy concerns, SVGS has chosen not to publish them. The full test is available at the link. The answers can be found here. (Editor’s note: According to a Salina Journal report that reviewed the test results, only 25% passed the test. And in this area of Kansas, only about half of the kids actually completed the eighth grade. Also, we don’t know what was considered a passing grade.)
The Common Sense Show – (Thecommonsenseshow.com – no date)
The Common Sense Show is a website dedicated to peaceful, non-violent social and political change. It features a wide variety of important topics that range from the loss of constitutional liberties, to the subsequent implementation of a police state under world governance, to exploring the limits of human potential. The primary purpose of The Common Sense Show website is to provide Americans with the tools necessary to reclaim both our individual and national sovereignty. Check out the “Breaking News” tab to see current articles.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH – articles off the beaten track which may – or may not – have predictive value.
The Language of Science – (Scientific American – September, 2020)
Modern science is ingeniously, intrinsically and extravagantly visual. No wonder “see” is a word whose popularity spans all 175 years of writing about science and technology in Scientific American. It is entirely in keeping with the visual spirit of scientific communication that the very words used in all 5,107 issues of Scientific American since 1845 should be turned into an image. Like the patterns in marbled paper, the word frequencies undulate, soaring and plunging as a function of time to track the way science talked about itself to itself. Epistemic virtues (which are to knowledge what moral virtues are to goodness) such as “certainty,” flanked by its boon companions “universal,” “rational” and “truth,” spiked in the middle decades of the 19th century, whereas clusters such as “imagination,” “intuition,” “conjecture” and “interpret” peaked suggestively between the 1950s and the 1970s. Just as revealing as the jagged peaks and troughs are the trajectories of words that have persisted over time: “average,” “exception,” “cause,” “experiment,” “observation,” “standard,” “skill” and, yes, “see.” Instead of the Alps, these word landscapes resemble gently rolling hills: they have their ups and downs, but for the most part they are as steady as the horizon. They represent the enduring practices of science that survive revolutions in theories and even shifts in epistemic virtues. The resulting chart lines compare the relative frequency of word occurrence in the print issues of the magazine each year scaled by maximum value. The patterns revealed by these combinations run the gamut from somewhat predictable (weather/climate) to validating (certainty/uncertainty) to socially progressive (man/human). To search for your own favorite words and explore other juxtapositions, visit the interactive portal at www.scientificamerican.com/interactive/science-words. Article also includes a lovely graphic portrayal of the most used significant word in each of its 175 year history. In 1901, the word was “electric”; in 2001, the word was “sign” (as a noun). (Editor’s note: the article’s graphics are delightful.)
JUST FOR FUN
Histography Timeline of History – (Historgraphy – no date)
Histography.io presents as a series of dots on a timeline. Hover over any one, and it’s an event harvested from Wikipedia. Click on it, and you can read the entry—without leaving the site, which is handy if you’re in the mood to lose an entire day down a rabbit hole. The timeline stretches from 13.8 billion years ago to now. The subjects covered include literature, wars, construction, music, politics, and more. Select your timeframe, select your topic are, and click on a dot to see what happened.
A FINAL QUOTE
The future is no more uncertain than the present. ― Walt Whitman
A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy, Kermit Weeks 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