Archive for September, 2017

The other night I attended an event at Arizona State University where they played an episode of the cult classic Fringe and then had a couple of scientists on hand to discuss the events that had transpired on the silver screen.  It was a fascinating discussion that touched on physics, biotech, medical ethics, and the nefarious motives of DARPA.  And as it unfolded I naturally I began to think about modern day fringe science and what that looks like.  Even though the show ended less than five years ago, a lot has happened in that short period of time thanks to the breakneck speed at which innovation has been progressing.  If we were to relaunch the show again today what would it look like?  What topics would its plots touch on?

With that in mind here’s a look at some of the modern day fringe science that might make its way into a future episode of Fringe if we were to relaunch it.  All of these are real developments that have recently been in the news:

  • The Brainternet, Elon Musk’s Neuralink, and all other efforts to connect the human brain to the Internet
  • Neural dust and nanobots that monitor our health and heal our bodies from the inside
  • Bloodstream powered power plants inside our bodies
  • Erasing specific memories to help people deal with PTSD
  • The ability to punish inmates by altering their state of mind
  • Restoring consciousness in a man who had been in a coma for over fifteen years
  • The ability to restore the memories from early childhood that were believed to have been lost forever
  • The ability to create the image of a person’s face from their DNA, forever altering crime scene investigations
  • Using DNA transmit embedded information; now including video clips
  • Bringing back people who died within a few hours of their time of death
  • Augmented Eternity i.e. communicating with the dead via an AI program that mimics their speech patterns
  • Bringing back dead pets through cloning
  • One Touch Healing device; wounds sealed within seconds
  • 3-D printing or using stem cells to grow natural replacement body parts
  • 3-D printing with ultrasound
  • Body modification and transmutation; the girl who can feel Earthquakes
  • Life-like robots with synthetic muscles; sex robots
  • Adaptive clothing that can change its composition to heat you up or cool you down
  • Metamaterials that can change their properties to suit the situation; imagine, for example, if you entire car was an air bag in of itself
  • The amazing new properties of Graphene and other wonder materials
  • Thirsty concrete
  • A new breakthrough that will make it possible for human-animal hybrids
  • An artificial womb
  • The ability to convert carbon dioxide into anything else, even alcohol
  • Crops that fertilize themselves
  • Glow in the dark cotton
  • The Brainet MindMeld that lets a group of monkeys work together
  • CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing
  • Synthetic Biology; creating entirely new synthetic species; bringing back extinct species
  • Discovering entire new forms of matter
  • Storing light as sound and other neat tricks that defy the laws of physics
  • Bullets that can alter their path and hit precise targets
  • Self-assembling robots
  • Deep learning AI that can learn from its mistakes and actually create images from text, not just identify what its seeing
  • Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality, and Virtual Reality experiences that the brain perceives as being so real as to be indistinguishable from real memories
  • Human head transplants
  • Bionic eye surgery that gives you 3x 20/20 vision
  • A vaccine for tooth decay, a cure for the common cold, and various other medical breakthroughs
  • Geoengineering schemes to alter the climate, such as a new plan to extract energy from the natural process of water evaporating from lakes
  • Qualia and other nootropic drugs that make you smarter
  • Metformin and other medical procedures that reverse the aging process
  • An on/off switch for consciousness
  • The ability to download our consciousness to survive the death of our physical bodies (i.e. The Singularity)
  • Figuring out how to successfully reanimate our bodies through cryogenics
  • An off/switch for sperm
  • Female Viagra
  • Heat resistant cows
  • Cockroach milk that has 3x the protein of milk from a cow
  • Tapping into synthesia and other additional senses such as the ability to see infrared light or navigate via magnetism
  • Organic electronics
  • Using fish scales to heal wounds
  • Creating a simulation universe in the lab
  • Improbable; creating global scale computer simulations
  • Phones that work without batteries
  • A biological lifeform printer
  • Mind reading AI that can tell what you’re thinking by reading a brain scan
  • The Loihi computer chip that models the human brain
  • Quantum computers that might be 50x faster than today’s fastest supercomputers; so fast, in fact, that they’ll enable us to solve every possible mystery that we have and even predict the future
  • Advanced conversational AI that could pass the Turing Test
  • AI that can write newspaper articles and automatically enhance any picture just seconds after its been taken
  • Zero Point Energy; the potential ability to actually manipulate the quantum fluctuations in space-time itself as a limitless energy supply
  • Fusion reactors and other sources of clean energy
  • The ability to use Wi-Fi to see through walls
  • Sonic weapons like the ones allegedly used against diplomats in Cuba
  • Invisibility cloaks
  • The ability to teleport objects from the Earth to space
  • Diamond powered batteries made by converting nuclear waste
  • Super soldiers that can download new skills on the fly thanks to DARPA
  • Living houses that can repair themselves
  • Food created from an electrical charge
  • Powdered blood; just add water
  • A cordical modem that links a heads up display directly to our visual cortex
  • Modular phones
  • Anything else that DARPA is working on
  • Energy harvesting fabrics
  • Personalized medicine
  • Edible water blobs (Ooho)
  • The Wize Mirror that can detect your health just by looking at you
  • 4-D printing
  • Photoshop for audio
  • Programmable pasta
  • The DeepCoder program that can code on its own
  • The Here One wearable that enables you to edit sounds in your environment and acts as a Universal Translator
  • A reusable microwaveable notebook
  • Underskin tattoos that act as keycards
  • A Star Trek style Tricorder that can detect illnesses
  • Biometric passwords such as using your unique heartbeat to unlock doors
  • Exoskeletons and other devices that enable us to surpass our physical limitations
  • Implants that let us control machines with our thoughts; the ability to read someone else’s thoughts

That’s a really impressive list of new technology, from just the last few years.  Perhaps, we ought to be less concerned with what would happen if those concepts made it into a fictional TV show that isn’t even on the air anymore, and more concerned with what will happen when they start showing up in real life.

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Will any of these fringe science ideas become the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The Big Four, as they are commonly referred to, have come to dominate modern life as we know it.  The phone in our pocket or tablet in our hand that we use to stay connected with friends on Facebook was made by Apple.  The online searches that we conduct are powered by Google.  The groceries and supplies that we have delivered are ordered through Amazon.  Other companies like Microsoft dabble in relevancy.  But for now, and the immediate future, it’s all about the Big Four.

To secure this narrative Apple is launching the iPhone X and taking the lead on integrating Augmented Reality into their devices.  Previously, Facebook bought Oculus to lead the charge into Virtual Reality.  Meanwhile, Amazon’s Echo gave them a head start on dominating the Internet of Things and connected home markets.  All the while Google presses ahead with their moonshots from driverless cars to curing age related diseases.  The Big Four isn’t going anywhere.  Far from it.  They’re core businesses are all doing well as they transition to mobile computing and their big bets are well diversified across a myriad of industries from AI and drones to telecommunications and content creation.

The question that I like to grabble with is what comes next?  How long can the Big Four stay on top?  Will a massive conglomerate supplant them all?  Will a fifth company ever join their ranks, and if so, who will it be?  No matter how you slice it, there’s only one possible answer.  What comes next is whatever Elon Musk has planned.

And according to Futurism, what’s next, is a global network of satellites capable of providing low cost Internet access.

“SpaceX seems to be taking a step forward in its plan to provide low-cost global internet access via a network of satellites. According to a report from GeekWire, SpaceX has filed to trademark the name ‘Starlink’ for the network. CEO Elon Musk first announced his intention to begin the project back in 2015. More detailed plans were laid out in May, including the intention to launch 4,425 satellites into orbit between 2019 and 2024.  Musk estimated that the network could cost upward of $10 billion to get started, but foresees it as a major source of revenue for the company once it is up and running.”

So let’s say that this initiative is vastly successful and does indeed become a major revenue stream for SpaceX.  Now, let’s say that their reusable rocket business continues to take off, pun intended, and they get into sub-orbital shipping and even space tourism as well and so at the end of the day you’re talking about this major company that’s just absolutely crushing it.  Now let’s say that Tesla with their driverless cars and trucks and their energy powerpacks and powerwalls is also absolutely crushing it.  Now, here’s where things get interesting.  What if Elon Musk combines those two companies with all of his other initiatives (Solar City, the Boring Company, the Hyperloop, Neuralink, plus whatever else he dreams up the next time he’s bored) and creates one major company.  What would that look like? Would this entity, with its focus on transportation/shipping/energy/access to the Internet, etc. be powerful enough to compete with the Big Four?!?! Could it supplant them all on its own?

Obviously, only time will tell, but it is worth speculating about now.  For when Elon Musk announces something new, in this case Starlink, it’s not necessarily just a stand-alone announcement.  For all we know it’s the latest step in his master plan to join the Big Four.  Which begs the question: what does he have planned next?!!?

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Is Starlink the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,174 – Amazon Glass

Earlier today Amazon unveiled a whole fleet of new Alexa enabled Echo devices including an alarm clock, a landline phone bridge, and even mini buttons for game playing.  But I don’t care about any of that.  The Alexa enabled device that I want to talk about was actually first unveiled a few weeks ago.

As I’ve detailed throughout the history of this blog, I loved the idea of Google Glass.  As a glasses wearer for most of my life, I was thrilled with the idea of smart glasses that could allow me to access the Internet and broadcast my life.  I even warned glassholes not to ruin it for me.  But sadly, it was all for naught.  I will likely never get to wear a pair of Google Glasses in my life.

But, perhaps, all hope is not lost.  Thanks to Amazon, smart glasses may still be in my future.  Alexa style.

According to The Verge:

“Amazon’s first wearable device will be a pair of smart glasses with the Alexa voice assistant built in, according to a report in the Financial Times. The device will reportedly look like a regular pair of glasses and use bone-conduction technology so that the user can hear Alexa without the need for earphones or conventional speakers. It won’t, however, likely have a screen or camera…”

In other words, you won’t be able to take creepy pictures of strangers in various stages of undress inside of gym locker rooms, thereby eliminating all of the privacy concerns that scuttled Google Glass in the first place.

Instead, what you’ll be left with is a wearable device that will allow you to continue to communicate with your new best friend, Alexa, no matter where you are.  No longer will you have to be within ear-shot of your Echo speaker.  Now you’ll be completely untethered, with your own personal voice assistant strapped to your face wherever you go.

Considering how much people love their Echos and considering how the ease of using voice commands to communicate with our devices has really caught on, I can “see” these new smart glasses having staying power.

It won’t be the same as having Google Glass but I’ll still take it.  Thanks, Amazon!

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Are Alexa powered smart glasses the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,173 – Loihi

Earlier today I wrote about Magic Dust, Ultimate Computing, Exascale Computing, and everything else having to do with the future of supercomputers and quantum computing.  But I forgot to mention one other key development: Intel’s new self-learning chip.

As Engadget puts it:

“Lots of tech companies including Apple, Google, Microsoft, NVIDIA and Intel itself have created chips for image recognition and other deep-learning chores. However, Intel is taking another tack as well with an experimental chip called ‘Loihi.’ Rather than relying on raw computing horsepower, it uses an old-school, as-yet-unproven type of ‘nueromorphic’ tech that’s modeled after the human brain.

Intel has been exploring neuromorphic tech for awhile, and even designed a chip in 2012. Instead of logic gates, it uses ‘spiking neurons’ as a fundamental computing unit. Those can pass along signals of varying strength, much like the neurons in our own brains. They can also fire when needed, rather than being controlled by a clock like a regular processor.”

Considering that we don’t yet fully understand how the brain works it may not make sense to model a computer chip after it.  But then again, some of our best inventions have come from copying the designs we’ve found in nature.  Millions of years of evolution have already done the heavy lifting for us, ironing out most of the kinks, and so what we’re left with is a pure design.

The human brain is proof of that, a well-oiled machine capable of completing tasks, such as image recognition, that even today’s fastest supercomputers struggle with.  Perhaps modeling a chip after it, isn’t such a bad idea after all.

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Is Loihi the Greatest Idea Ever?

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As if you needed any further proof that we’re living in the Future, take a gander at the latest quantum computing news.

Now, I’ll be honest.  I don’t really know what I’m talking about when it comes to quantum computing.  Or most things for that matter.  But, especially quantum computing.  However, there have been so many breakthroughs over the last week that I think it’s important to take note of them.  With that in mind, here’s a quick look at the latest breakthroughs: 

New Type of Qubit: Researchers have invented a new type of qubit – the building block of quantum computing.  This new breakthrough could allow us to shrink down the amount of space needed to house a quantum computer, finally making them scalable and commercially viable. 

According to Science Alert, “Thanks to coding information in both the nucleus and electron of an atom, the new silicon qubit, which is being called a ‘flip-flop qubit’, can be controlled by electric signals, instead of magnetic ones. That means it can maintain quantum entanglement across a larger distance than ever before, making it cheaper and easier to build into a scalable computer.”

Increasing the Number of Qubits: A new type of qubit is great, but you know what’s even better?! Millions of them!

According to Futurism, “A pair of researchers from the University of Tokyo have developed what they’re calling the “ultimate” quantum computing method.  Unlike today’s systems, which can currently only handle dozens of qubits, the pair believes their model will be able to process more than a million.”

So, how would this amazing new technology work?!

As Futurism explains:

“At the center of their new method is a basic optical quantum computing system — a quantum computer that uses photons (light particles) as quantum bits (qubits) — that Furusawa devised in 2013.

This machine occupies a space of roughly 6.3 square meters (67 square feet) and can handle only a single pulse of light, and increasing its capabilities requires the connecting of several of these large units together, so instead of looking into ways to increase its power by expanding the system’s hardware, the researchers devised a way to make one machine accommodate many pulses of light via a loop circuit.

In theory, multiple light pulses, each carrying information, could go around the circuit indefinitely. This would allow the circuit to perform multiple tasks, switching from one to another by instant manipulation of the light pulses.”

Exascale Computing: As the latest developments with qubits demonstrate, there is a lot of key work being down to try to advance the growing field of quantum computing.  But those developments aren’t good enough for the Department of Energy, which is looking to pour money and resources into exascale computing, which would be able to outperform even today’s fastest supercomputer by several orders of magnitude.

According to Geek Wire:

“The notion of operating at exascale can be mind-blowing: the term refers to the ability to process a quintillion (1018) calculations per second. Modern supercomputers have been operating at the petascale (a quadrillion calculations per second) level for several years, and leveling up in this world is a massive undertaking that requires deep research by some of the brightest minds in high-performance computing.”

The article adds that, “the end result will be a computer that is 50 times more powerful than today’s state-of-the-art supercomputers. Even the DOE isn’t exactly sure what we’ll be able to do with an exascale computer, but researchers in weather, material science, and clean energy will take all the computational horsepower they can get.”

Magic Dust: But all that pales in comparison to a breakthrough so mind-blowing that it can only be described as “Magic Dust”.

As Futurism reports:

“For years, supercomputers have provided hope for insight into some of science’s most mysterious and seemingly unanswerable problems. The continued advancement of quantum computing has given scientists renewed hope, but a recent study from UK and Russian researchers takes the potential one step further by combining light and matter to form what is known as “magic dust.”

Based in Cambridge, Southampton, and Cardiff Universities in the UK and the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Russia, these researchers have demonstrated that this magical combination could potentially allow us to surpass the capabilities of even the most advanced supercomputers. Quantum particles known as polaritons, which are half-light and half matter, were shown to ‘light the way’ to simple solutions when given complicated problems. The results of this study, as reported in the journal Nature Materials, could eventually lead scientists to solve the currently unsolvable.”

Even though I don’t fully understand anything that I just reported, one thing is abundantly clear to me: the computer of the future will be unlike anything we can imagine; capable of performing billions of calculations per second, solving multiple problems simultaneously, even solving the unsolvable.  With technology like this to support us there’s no telling what we’ll be able to accomplish!  Secrets of the Universe here we come!

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The future of computing looks very bright.

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Climate change deniers may disagree but there’s no denying the simple fact that we’re sending more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and warming the planet in the process.  Thankfully, there are some among us who have sought to counteract the effects of all that extra carbon dioxide through carbon capture based geoengineering schemes.

The hope is that if you could capture carbon and store it underground you might be able to convert it back into rock.  Or you might be able to capture it and convert into an algae based biofuel as researchers at Arizona State University are hoping.  But there’s now an even better approach to carbon capture.  One that would enable us to convert the dangerous COin the atmosphere into anything else.  That’s right.  It one day may even be possible to make alcohol out of thin air!

As Science Alert explains:

“What Ming Ma has done is come up a new method for controlling a process called electro-reduction, which is used in CCU [carbon capture utilization] to turn CO2 into other kinds of molecules…

One example is copper nanowires, which can produce hydrocarbons from CO2, while nano-porous silver can produce CO.  By changing these metals, and altering the lengths of the nanowires used for electro-reduction, Ma found that the electric potential in the reaction can be tuned, meaning it’s possible to make any carbon-based product we want.”

I love this idea because of how it turns our greatest weakness, a compound capable of destroying all life on Earth, and turns it into one of our greatest strengths, an abundant natural resource that we could use to reach new heights as a species.  It just doesn’t get any better than that.

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Is turning carbon dioxide into other types of molecules the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,170 – Brainternet

“Human brain linked to the Internet for the first time!”

It’s hard not to get excited when you first read that headline.  Having the ability to access the Internet just by thinking about it would be astonishing.  It would fundamentally alter what it means to be human.   Unfortunately though, we’re not quite there yet.  But we are making significant progress.

As Futurism explains:

“A team of researchers at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa have made a major breakthrough in the field of biomedical engineering. According to a release published on Medical Express, for the first time ever, researchers have devised a way of connecting the human brain to the internet in real time. It’s been dubbed the ‘Brainternet’ project, and it essentially turns the brain into an Internet of Things (IoT) node on the World Wide Web.”

The article adds that, “The project works by taking brainwave EEG signals gathered by an Emotiv EEG device connected to the user’s head. The signals are then transmitted to a low cost Raspberry Pi computer, which live streams the data to an application programming interface and displays the data on an open website where anyone can view the activity.”

As interesting as this sounds it’s sadly not as appealing as having the ability to access the Internet through your thoughts.  But that’s okay.  Because that’s the next step and it will soon be possible as well.

Adam Pantanowitz, the project supervisor for the Brainternet, was quoted in that Futurism article as saying:

“In [the] future, there could be information transferred in both directions – inputs and outputs to the brain…”

Elon Musk is already working on doing just that through his Neuralink project and this research could play a vital role in his future efforts in this emerging field.  And I for one, can’t wait to see how this all plays out.

I mean, just think about all the possibilities for this technology.  If you’re at a party and don’t remember someone’s name you can quickly access your contacts list to figure it out.  Maybe you could also reference their Facebook profile to help you come up with an interesting topic for small talk.  On the other hand, if we’re not just accessing the Internet but also broadcasting to it, imagine if you will, the possibilities for reading people’s thoughts or analyzing their dreams.  For example, wouldn’t it be amazing if you could go to www.brainmap.com/ElonMusk to see what is really going on in that manic brain of his?

Hopefully, this Brainternet research will continue to advance and all of the interested parties will be able to find a way to work together because I can think of nothing more exciting than a future in which our brains are linked in both directions to the Internet.

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Is the Brainternet the Greatest Idea Ever?

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