Archive for August, 2015

#785 – SpaceLiner

I’d love to go to the Australian outback someday.  I’d ride around in a Kangaroo pouch, watch a rugby match, learn to surf, teach the locals how to play baseball, and take in a show at the Sydney Opera house.  It would be epic.  It’s also never going to happen.  Australia is just too far away!  You’d lose an entire day just travelling there one way.  Thankfully, there soon may be a fix that would be a boon to the Aussie tourism industry: a SpaceLiner capable of making the trek from Europe in just 90 minutes!

As IFLS writes, “With current technology, the shortest journey from Europe to Sydney is around 30 hours. That’s more than an entire day devoted to traveling. However, German space agency DLR has added their own solution to our slow travel problem: the SpaceLiner.  This yet-to-be-developed vehicle would zip over the globe faster than the speed of sound, achieving this feat by flying higher than the stratosphere. Packed with rocket engine technology, the SpaceLiner would travel from Europe to Australia in just 90 minutes. You could realistically pop over to Grandma’s for lunch and be back home for dinner.” 

The key phrase from that paragraph was ‘yet-to-be-developed’.  However, just like with Elon Musk’s Hyperloop that doesn’t mean that all hope should be lost.  On the contrary.  It just means that we should start getting excited now.  After all, some things are worth waiting for.  And the SpaceLiner would certainly be one such thing. 

I, however, would probably be willing to wait a little bit longer than most.  Until after they’ve worked out all of the kinks and all.  For when it comes to sub orbital space flight you do want to be an early adopter.

Is a SpaceLiner the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#784 – Mother Robot

A lot of people irrationally (rationally?) fear a robot uprising, a point in time in which our creations achieve consciousness and became our overlords.  While we’re not at that point yet we are one step closer for we now have a robot capable of creating other robots via the process of natural selection.  And best of all (worst of all?) it can do so without any intervention from humans or even a computer simulation.

Wired UK explains: “Researchers at the University of Cambridge have created a ‘mother robot’ that can build its own ‘children’. The mother can also test its children and evaluate their performance in order to improve the results when it designs the next generation of robots — passing down desirable traits, but ‘breeding out’ less successful ones.”

For now the mother robot has a one track mind: developing a robot capable of movement and fine tuning the results until they are optimal.  But this research proofs that it’s possible for a robot to mimic the act of natural selection, a breakthrough that could lead to future robots becoming capable of carrying out more complex tasks involving more than just the five “genes” at play in this test.

So, should we be worried?  In my opinion, not by the idea of a mother robot.  But there was a different breakthrough recently that may be even more noteworthy.  One that should scare us: the creation of a robot-bacteria hybrid wherein robots are controlled by living colonies of bacteria.  Because now we’re not just talking about a robot capable of mimicking evolution.  Now we’re talking about a real living thing capable of actual evolution.

As IFLS explains, “Bacteria-controlled robots aren’t here just yet, but a team of intrepid scientists has created a mathematical model to predict how such systems might explore the world around them. Of course, bacteria are not endowed with appendages suitable for tugging wires and pulling levers. Instead, the hypothetical robot was designed to monitor what color the bacteria were. The bacteria had a choice of green or red, and they switched between the two depending on what they consumed. The theoretical robot peered at them with a miniature microscope and measured the pigment and intensity of each color, which determined where and how fast the robot moved.”

All in all, despite these new breakthroughs we’re still a long way from the plot of I, Robot becoming a reality.  Or are we?

Is a mother robot capable of producing and modifying offspring the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#783 – Modafinil

After a year of studying and four tries I finally passed the dreaded Series 7 test last month…by one question.  Clearly, I could have used a smart drug that would have boosted my cognitive function, namely my ability to concentrate for long periods of time, so that I could have aced the test the first time I took it.  Unfortunately, no such drug existed.  Until now, that is.  Known as Modafinil, there is now a medication, traditionally used to treat some sleep disorders, that you can take to get smarter.  

As I Fucking Love Science explains, “Modafinil is a medicine used to treat sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Dubbed as a ‘smart drug,’ modafinil is becoming increasingly popular among students to improve their concentration before an exam. But is it safe and does it really work? A recent review by researchers suggests modafinil does work for some people and is safe in the short term.”

That’s a real game changer right there as we now have a scientifically proven way to get smarter.  A conclusion, by the way, that I was able to come to on my own without taking a pill.

As great as this may sound to some people, there are, however, obvious downsides to this news, including the ethical concerns that it raises.  Just because we now have a  “reasonably safe” smart pill to take with little to no side effects does that mean that we should take it?  And more importantly would it be considered cheating to do so?  Would schools have to drug test their students prior to taking big exams like the SAT?

To be clear this medication has not been officially cleared as an over the counter product.  And if may never get to that point.  But that’s not going to stop people from taking it if it really does make as big of a difference as people claim.  Which begs the question: would you take it?

Is a drug that makes you smarter the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#782 – MultiFab

Since I just posed an update that details a whole new type of drone I might as well follow that up with a post about an entirely new kind of 3-D printer.  Known as the MultiFab, this incredible new device was created by MIT and can print up to ten materials at once!

As Gizmag explains, “3D printers may have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, but most are one trick ponies in that their computer-controlled syringes extrude only one material at a time to build up an object. It’s a process that’s slow, imprecise, and often requires items to be printed in separate pieces and then assembled. MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab’s (CSAIL) MultiFab printer takes 3D printing technology a step further by combining 3D optical scanning with the ability to print using 10 different materials on the same job.”

So how does it work?

According to Engadget, “this machine doesn’t extrude materials. Instead, it mixes microscopic droplets of photopolymers together and shoots them through inkjet-style printers. The system is also quite complex despite being constructed primarily from off-the-shelf components. A central computer directs the printer while receiving a continual stream of data from a 40-micron resolution 3D scanner and camera array as the item is being created. This feedback data — which measures in the dozens of gigabytes — allows the machine to correct and re-calibrate itself as the item is being printed. It also allows the user to place other objects, say a CPU chip, into the project and then print around it. The team envisions users being able to place a cellphone in the machine and 3D-print a case directly onto it.”

Like with all 3-D printing breakthroughs it’s going to be a while before using such a printer becomes a common everyday occurrence.  But just knowing that this capability even exists is still exciting nonetheless.


Is the MultiFab 3-D printer the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#781 – Water Drone

On a seemingly daily basis there’s a new story about a drone.  Whether it’s the fact that they are flying too close to airplanes, crash landing somewhere they’re not supposed to be, or being used to deliver unsavory items to inmates.  What’s harder to come by is a story about a new type of drone, one that could completely change what it means to be a drone.  Thankfully, we have one such story today as Boeing has submitted a patent for a new transformer like hybrid drone capable of diving into the ocean and turning into an underwater submersible. 

As Fast Company puts it, “If James Bond had a drone, it would soar through the skies in search of bad guys, and then dive-bomb into the ocean, seamlessly transforming into an underwater evil-lair-seeking submarine.”

So how exactly would this new drone work?!!?

According to IFLS, “The intention is for the drone to be launched from an aircraft. After the drone finds the perfect patch of water to explore, it lowers itself towards the surface. As it hits the water, the drone sheds off parts of its wings to become more streamlined, either by using exploding bolts or even a glue which dissolves in salt water. After the little drone (now swimming using propellers) finishes collecting data, it resurfaces and signals home. It can then be located, so long as it floats on top of the waves.”

Perhaps future iterations would have the ability to also return to a flying state and then return home on their own.  For now though, it seems like this drone will just be designed for one way trips. While less than ideal that’s still better than the alternative: a world in which transformer drones don’t exist!

Is a drone that dives into the water the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I used to think that the idea of getting married in Las Vegas was lame.  A couple of witnesses and an Elvis impersonator?  Count me out.  A drive thru divorce court set in Las Vegas on the other hand, now that would have made sense.

However, I may have to change my tune thanks to philosopher Jonathon Keats who has teamed up with the Art Motel to arrange for newlyweds’ particles to become entangled forever and ever through the miracle of quantum entanglement.  Because science.

As Fast Company explains, “The new ceremony is based on the concept of quantum entanglement—a somewhat magical-sounding phenomenon where two particles remain connected in their physical state even when they’re far apart. Whatever happens to one particle will instantly happen to the other.”

Which if you think about it is the ultimate romantic concept.  Two people joined forever through the cosmos even after they die.  For a hopeless romantic it doesn’t get any better than that.

So how exactly would this new money making scheme work?

Well, according to Fast Company:

“A nonlinear crystal—a special type of grown in a lab—will hang in a sunny window, entangling the photons that pass through. Mirrors and prisms will bounce the light through the room, and onto the bodies of anyone who wants to become ‘entangled’ amongst themselves.”

Of course this is a weird concept and there’s no guarantee that it will work since it’s impossible to test.  However, that’s not going to stop people from wanting to try it.  Myself included.  Now if I only could find someone who wants to get married in Vegas!

Is a quantum entanglement marriage ceremony the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#779 – Human Source Code

One of my favorite new shows is Mr. Robot, a show in which a young hacker with schizophrenic tendencies attempts to take down a giant corporation with the help of his imaginary friend and a few other bizarre characters who may or may not be who they seem.  In a recent episode, the main character, Elliot, raised a fascinating question: what if we could see a person’s source code the way we could see the source code for a computer program?

The show demonstrated this concept by making characters walk around with a sign around their necks during a dream sequence with the sign summing up what they were feeling at that exact moment in time.  For instance, someone might have a sign that says that they’re jealous of someone else in the office or that they’re having an affair or that they secretly hate themselves.

Such tidbits are insightful, sure, but they also don’t line up with the exact metaphor of a source code for humans.  For a source code isn’t just one phrase.  Rather, it’s a sequence of several different things.  The digital equivalent of DNA.

So I got to thinking.  What if there was a way to make this analogy more accurate?  What if there was a way that we could actually find out someone’s source code.  Not a brief description of who they are.  But, rather, a breakdown of everything that comprises who they are.  A personality test of sorts.  One that follows us around and that can be viewed in real time, upon demand.  A cognitive fingerprint if you will.

Dating site profiles could feature this information.  As could LinkedIN.  Or even Facebook.  Anywhere that you’d want someone to know who you are, who you really are, not just the parts that you showcase publicly.  This source code would enable people to find out what you’re all about.  To see what emotional states you exhibit the most, to find out what kind of character you have, to find out, for instance, how competitive you are, or whether or not you can take a joke.

My source code, for example, would probably say something like: introverted with the potential to be extroverted in the right setting; even-keeled the majority of the time; doesn’t get too high or too low; close minded when it comes to certain things like trying new foods; adventurous when it comes to other things like traveling to new places; conservative risk taker; compassionate; empathetic; dreamer.

With information like that readily available potential mates and employers can find out right off the bat whether or not I’ll be compatible with them.  The question that remains, however, is how would we ever find all of that out in a quick and easy way that’s 100% accurate?  Well I think there may be a rather simple solution.  All we’d have to do is create a wearable device that monitors brain activity and determines a person’s state of mind at any given point in time.  Or we could take a data mining approach and compile a profile of a person based off of an analysis of their social media posts, emails, texts, browsing history, test scores, etc.  Or I suppose that we could just do it the old fashioned way and just have people fill out a detailed survey by hand.

Either way I think there might be something to this, something to the idea of a source code for humans that other people could view quickly and easily.  If I’m right there’s only one thing left to ponder: what will your source code say?

Is a source code for humans the Greatest Idea Ever?

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