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Archive for December, 2017

Here’s a look at my favorite innovation and science books from the past year, ranked somewhat in order of awesomeness.  Keep in mind that these books weren’t necessarily published in 2017.  It’s just a list of books that I happened to read in 2017.  And since I frequent used book stores some of these may be old and obscure.  I highly recommend the first few.

A Short History Of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson

How To Fly A Horse – Kevin Ashton

The Geography of Genius – Eric Weiner

Where Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson

The Filter Bubble – Eli Pariser

Inventology – Pagan Kennedy

The Big Switch – Nicholas Carr

The Inevitable: Understanding the Twelve Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future – Kevin Kelly

How We Got To Now – Steven Johnson

Smarter Than You Think – Clive Thompson

What Technology Wants – Kevin Kelly

The Class Gage – Nicholas Carr

The Idea Factory – Jon Gertner

Future Perfect – Steven Johnson

Enchanted Objects – David Rose

Creativity Inc. – Ed Catmull

Googled – Ken Auletta

As The Future Catches You – Juan Enriquez

The Originals – Adam Grant

For more great books please continue to follow along with what I’m reading in the reading list tab of this blog.  If you have any suggestions please let me know.  All books must be non-fiction and about science or technology.

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Detecting a neutron star collision was cool and all but these were really the Greatest Ideas of 2017:

Impossible Burger: Our reliance on meat may actual be worse for the environment than all of the carbon dioxide that we’ve been pumping into the atmosphere.  So what do we do about it?  Enter Impossible Burger – artificial burgers, chicken, steak, etc. designed to taste exactly like the real thing.  Backed by Bill Gates this venture could save us all…from ourselves.

Metallic Hydrogen: The problem with actually creating this long theorized material is that the amount of pressure required to do so is greater than the amount of pressure found at the center of the Earth.  Yet scientists were finally able to create some this year, leading to the potential to do something even greater: reversing the process to create an energy source so powerful that it could be used to power spaceships.

Quark Power: If splitting atomic nuclei gave us the atomic bomb what would splitting quarks, the particles that make up atoms, do?  Possibly solve all of our energy needs forever!

Pixel Buds: Google’s new earbuds can translate up to 40 languages in real time, making it my favorite consumer facing product of the year.  Traveling to foreign countries just got a whole lot easier.
 
Neuralink: The race to invent a brain-computer interface is on with Elon Musk’s foray into neuroscience, based on the fictional Neural Lace, taking the early lead.

Starlink: Speaking of Elon Musk, no recap of 2017 ideas would be complete without a look at Musk’s other pet project, an initiative to blanket the Earth with a network of satellites that would beam down cheap internet to the masses.  From Neuralink and Starlink to the Boring Project, Hyperloop, and Tesla’s driverless truck, Musk’s fingerprints were all over 2017.  He even had time to do some AI related fearmongering.  Fears, that as we’ll see next, may not have been that off-base.

AlphaGo Zero: Here’s a scary thought: Not only can Google’s AI program master the extremely difficult game Go, but it can also now teach itself how to learn just about anything.  Just another example of how 2017 was dominated by AI as Deep Learning techniques imbued computers with vision, hearing, and other senses.  Speaking of which…
 
DeepCoder: For years we’ve been hearing about how important it is to learn how to code since automation may be taking away traditional jobs.  Now it seems like automation may be taking away coding as well thanks to a new computer program capable of coding for you once you tell it what you want.
 
Moviepass: It may seem ridiculous to include a subscription service on a list with physics breakthroughs but there’s no denying how great of an idea Moviepass is as it allows subscribers to go to the movies once, every day, for just $10 per month!

Oculus Go: A $200, untethered, stand-alone headset that operates without a smartphone could be what is needed to finally allow Virtual Reality to enter the mainstream.
 
Instant Coal: Scientists have managed to create a biofuel, made from agricultural waste products, that acts just like real coal, without any of the negative side effects such as deep mining or pollution.

Releaf: A high school student named Wyatt Pontius has figured out a way to engineer leafs to produce 375% more oxygen than they currently do.  This is a potentially world saving idea as the amount of oxygen in our atmosphere has been slowly decreasing.

The Plan to Save Yellowstone: NASA has unveiled plans to try and thwart the Yellowstone Super Volcano from exploding by pumping cold water into it thereby extracting heat from it.  The work could also pave the way for electric cars as a valuable battery component, lithium, could then be mined from the area.

Ethereum: Will 2017 be remembered as the year that blockchain based digital currencies finally reached the mainstream?  If so, it’s likely that the popularity and success of Ethereum will be the reason why as the new platform allows for all kinds of secure transactions to take place.

Universal Basic Income:  Or perhaps 2017 will be remembered as the year that the concept of UBI finally gained traction, paving the way for a world in which citizens survive on a government issued stipend instead of working 9 to 5 jobs.  Finland is the latest country to announce plans for a trial run in 2018.
 
Net Neutrality: But more than likely, 2017 will be remembered as the year that Net Neutrality went away, and the Internet as we know it died.  Hopefully, that won’t happen, but considering how important it is to maintaining a fair and open Internet, the principle of Net Neutrality is clearly the Greatest Idea of the Year.

Honorable mention: Graphene (now and forever), Magic Leap’s first product, neutron star collision detection

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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2017 was a great year for medical breakthroughs:

Metformin: Until scientists can figure out a way to reverse the aging process and enable humans to live forever, we may have to settle for Metformin, a drug that could prolong our “healthspans”, giving us a longer period of time to live with all of our faculties functioning properly.

Cure for Baldness: Dr. Lu Le has figured out exactly which genes are switched off when people go bald or have their hair turn gray.  Giving us hope that in a few years a product can be created to treat these unwanted side effects of growing old.

No More Junk Food Cravings: UK scientists have figured out a way to suppress junk food cravings, without inhibiting a person’s natural appetite.  As an added bonus you’ll want to eat smaller portions too.

Injectable Glue: MeTro eliminates the need for stitches and staples by gluing your wounds together thanks to a combination of a naturally occurring protein and UV light.  It’ll even work on your internal organs as well.

Unico: Brush your teeth in just 1.87 seconds thanks to the Unico electric toothbrush that uses a retainer like design to brush all sides of your teeth at the same time.

Fat Loss Patch: Miracle weight loss schemes aren’t new but the Fat Loss Patch may take the cake.  Literally and figuratively.  It works its magic by converting the body’s stored white fat cells into energy burning brown fat cells.

Tooth Decay Vaccine: Chinese researchers are working on developing a powder that could be added to sugary foods that would render a bacterium found in our mouths less destructive to teeth after sugar was consumed.  Essentially, what they would be doing is creating a tooth decay vaccine.

Allergen Detector: Just set this key chain sized device next to your plate and it’ll tell you if there any allergens in your food.  Potentially life-saving.

One Touch Healing: A new method known as Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT) can start healing wounds in just one second by adding various genetic material i.e. vascular cells to a patient’s skin cells.  The specialized cells can begin the healing process faster than skin cells can, thereby saving lives with just one touch.

A working Tricorder: A Star Trek inspired hand-held device known as Dexter can detect and diagnose up to 34 health conditions, giving consumers a valuable weapon in the on-going battle against disease.

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Temporal Treasure: Would we be better off if we lived in a society built around micro-payments tied to what we did with our free time?  Where everything we did, from responding to email to giving advice to a friend, resulted in us receiving a small payment.  Only time will tell.

Museum of the Mind: Every major city has an art museum or a museum of natural history but no one has a museum of the mind! Wouldn’t the world benefit from such a museum? One dedicated to studying dreaming, consciousness, creativity, and innovation.

Global Brain: There are a lot of problems facing humanity that seem intractable from climate change to terrorism.  We may not have all the answers but a global brain dedicated to protecting the Earth from existential threats might.

Hike Mic: Hiking is great and all, but there’s one thing that can make it better: an audio tour app that would regale you with stories and give you insightful tips about the flora and fauna as you traverse the countryside.

Photo Finish: In a world dominated by me first narcissists and bad reality TV it’s shocking that there isn’t a game show version of photography.  If Super Market Sweeps can exist, why can’t Photo Finish, a competition show dedicated to finding the person who can take the best photos in the least amount of time in a controlled setting.

Epic Search: You might think it’s impressive when the Google machine provides you with relevant information in a fraction of a second.  But what if our search engines could be doing more?  What if they could also search all social media sites, all comments on all websites, all of the videos on YouTube, etc.  What if there was a way to search the entirety of the Interweb, even the Dark Web, all at once?
 
Facebook Digest: If you want to stay connected to your friends, but hate how you feel when you spend time on social media, then Facebook Digest might be for you.  In this short email newsletter you’ll receive a briefing of all of today’s top posts featuring everything you need to know and nothing you don’t.

Sole Mate: If you hate the bar scene and despise making small talk over dinner then perhaps you should try Sole Mate, the world’s first hiking based dating service.
 

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Pursuing greatness in style.

Uber Elevate:  We may finally get our wish to have Jetsons style flying cars thanks to Uber Elevate, a plan to have a flying taxi service in place in California by 2020.  Ironically, Lyft would have made a better name for this program, but unfortunately, that name is already taken by Uber’s primary competitor.

DARPA’s Downloadable Skills: We may finally get our wish to live inside the Matrix thanks to DARPA’s plan to use electric stimulation to quickly train our brains to learn new skills on the fly.  We won’t exactly be downloading instructions on how to ride a motorcycle or learn Kung Fu right away though.  But any kind of cognitive enhancements would surely be welcomed by soldiers and ordinary citizens alike.

Asgardia:  The world’s first space nation is designed to give everyone access to space, especially those people who live in countries that don’t have their own space program.  In addition, Asgardia will conduct scientific research and be on the lookout for asteroids and other objects that could harm the Earth.  Especially cool since I’m a citizen!

CityTree: The tree that’s a forest, CityTree is a moss culture that gives off the environmental benefits of 275 trees, despite just taking up the footprint of a bus stop.

Recurrent Neural Networks:  Can’t wait for George R.R. Martin to write the next Game of Thrones book? Then AI has got you covered thanks to a new Recurrent Neural Network that scanned the previous books and then took a stab at writing what would happen next.  Spoiler alert: the story the AI came up with actually made sense.

Spray On Memory: Researchers from Duke University have invented a spray-on memory that could be used to add programmable electronics to paper, plastic, or just about any kind of surface that you can think of.

Earth as Telescope: We may finally be able to see what a black hole looks like thanks to a plan to combine several of the Earth’s largest telescopes into one giant telescope network that essentially turns the Earth itself into a giant telescope.

Unistellar eVscope: Speaking of telescopes it doesn’t get any better than the Unistellar eVscope made by our friends at SETI.  This consumer facing telescope will work just as well as large refracting telescopes, label everything you’re looking at, allow you to contribute to large scale scientific research projects in real-time, and cost under a thousand dollars.  It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Improbable: An advanced computer program, Improbable is capable of modeling virtual simulations on a global scale, letting researchers test out different models for new economic theories, models of government, or health outbreaks.

The Vocktail: Change the flavor of any drink with the Vocktail! Martinis turn into Sangria.  Orange juice becomes champagne.   Water is transformed into soda.  Does this mean I can now get drunk off of chocolate milk?

China’s Flying Train: A cross between a high speed bullet train, the Hyperloop, and a rocket ship, China’s Flying Train would obliterate land speed records and perhaps make it possible to travel from London to Hong Kong in just a few hours.

Even More High Speed Travel: In the future it may be possible to travel anywhere in the world in under four hours thanks to SpaceX’s Big Fucking Rocket.  It may also be possible to leave the Earth’s atmosphere as well thanks to the Skylon.

Hyperloop Hotel: Speaking of travel, you may be able to do so in style in the future thanks to a proposed Hyperloop Hotel network that would allow hotel guests to travel the country in their rooms/pods, potentially creating scenarios where you could wake up in a different city each day.

Unmeltable Ice Cream: Japanese researchers have figured out a way to create unmeltable ice cream using strawberry extract.  The breakthrough arose after the Fukushima nuclear power plant incident in 2011 created a need for research into engineering new crops.

Honorable mention: Wi-Fi Holograms, electric car gas stations, pixel morphing TVs, lens-less cameras,  Star Wars hotel, and smart ear plugs.

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Are we finally about to get flying cars?!

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Greatness doesn’t discriminate.

Neurofiction: What if a book could read you? That’s the premise behind Neurofiction, a new literary form that would enable authors to create stories that would change based on a readers’ mood.  If the headset finds that you are actually rooting for the villain to prevail then that’s what will happen.  On the other hand, if you want a happy ending, you’ll get a happy ending.  The technology was first tested earlier this year using a version of Snow White.
 
Artificial Wombs: Easily the most controversial idea on this list, an Artificial Womb would serve the practical purpose of enabling premature babies to continue to develop as if they were still inside their mother’s wombs.  However, it could also lead to mothers purposefully choosing to extract their babies during the first trimester to avoid having to go through the child bearing process at all.  A move that would improve a mother’s quality of life and remove certain health risks while undoubtedly raising other more ethical concerns.

Blood Vessel Power: In the future we may have miniaturized hydroelectric power plants inside of our bodies that would use the flow of blood through our vessels to power medical implants or wearable electronic devices.

Real Fake Tans: When you get a tan what’s really happening is that your body is producing melanin to protect its skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays.  Now that process can occur without actually coming into contact with the sun’s rays thanks to a protein, known as forskolin, that tricks the body into producing melanin.

Augmented Eternity:  By now we’re all familiar with Augmented Reality but an equally important trend in the future may be Augmented Eternity i.e. being able to correspond with dead relatives via an algorithm that can mix together a person’s emails, texts, social media posts, and other writings to create a realistic chatbot experience.  Is this a little bit creepy? Absolutely? Are people still going to try it anyway? Absolutely.

Edible Robots: Recent advances in AI and robotics could allow for a long-time staple of science fiction to come to fruition as we soon could swallow miniaturized nanobots that would then deliver drugs to specific targets inside our bodies.  But that’s not the weirdest part.  These edible robots might even be able to drive themselves directly into our mouths to get the process started.

Programmable Pasta: 4-D printing promises to revolutionize manufacturing with its ability to change an object’s shape over time once an accelerant is added to the mix.  One of the first commercial uses of this technology comes to us in the form of programmable pasta, spaghetti of various shapes that gets larger once you add water to it, driving down shipping costs along the way.

Electric Food: Finnish researchers have figured out a way to channel their inner Nikola Tesla and use electricity to create food.  By adding an electric charge to a specialized powder the scientists created food that was comprised of 50% protein, 25% carbohydrates, and the rest a mix of fat and nucleic acid.

The DBC: The Digitial to Biological Converter could make all of our 3-D printing dreams come true, allowing us to print out medications on Earth, or entire lifeforms on other planets.

The Brainternet: With Elon Musk and others working on ways to meld the human brain with technology it’s clear that neuroscience is the next great scientific frontier.  One early pioneer of the movement is the Brainternet, a project to hook up a human brain to the Internet, as just another node in the network.  This would allow for someone to type in a web address, say www.brainternet.com/craigshames, and see a feed of my thoughts.  Eventually, the goal is to make the flow of communication go both ways, so that information could be uploaded from the Internet to a person’s brain.

Gravity Blanket: It used to be that you were weird if you carried around a blankie with you.  In the near future you might be considered weird if you don’t.  That’s because we could soon have a blanket capable of improving our mood, thanks to the unique design of the Gravity Blanket, a 25 pound behemoth that strategically places weight on your body’s pressure points as you drape yourself in it.
 
DNA Breakthroughs: Believe it or not this entry has nothing to do with CRISPR.  Instead the weird DNA related breakthroughs are more practical.  First up is, Everence, a new tattoo method utilizing a special ink that’s been imbued with the DNA of either a living or deceased person.  This way you’ll always have your loved one with you at all times.  There’s also a DNA based sunscreen in the works that’ll ensure that you never need to apply suntan lotion again as it’ll never deteriorate once applied, and in fact, will actually get stronger and give you healthier looking skin over time as you use it.

Photoshop For Audio: In a year dominated by fake news, here’s a scary thought: a new tool may act like photoshop for audio, allowing for tricksters to mimic anyone’s speech.

Alcohol From Thin Air: A new breakthrough could enable carbon dioxide to be converted into other types of molecules.  Meaning that we could convert the driver of climate change into alcohol or any other carbon-based product that we want!

Ooho: And last but not least, we have the Ooho, quite possibly the weirdest thing on this list.  Ooho, is an edible water blob that you’d eat instead of drink, with the goal being to eliminate our environmentally harmful reliance on water bottles.

Honorable Mention: Slug inspired superglue, DNA video storage, universe in a lab, organic electronics.

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Artificial wombs.  Just because you’re weird doesn’t mean you can’t still be great.

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#1,225 – Estcoin

As the price of BitCoin, LiteCoin, Ethereum, and other blockchain based digital currencies continue to soar it’s worth investigating what the future of cryptocurrency might look like.  Will one of these currencies actually catch on or will something else come along and steal their thunder?

Luckily, one has to look no further than upstart Estonia for a case study, as the Baltic state is hoping to establish the estcoin as the hallmark of their digital dominion; an online based digital citizenship that they hope will be utilized not just by Estonians, but by people all over the world who want to be a part of their e-Residency program which would allow for anyone to become a digital citizen of their forward thinking country.

But how would the estcoin be used in such a digital society?  As a replacement for cash money?  As a unique identifier? Or as something else entirely?  The picture is beginning to take shape as the first proposed use cases were recently announced by Kaspar Korjus, managing director of the e-residency program.

According to Futurism:

“The first use case for the estcoin would be as a ‘community’ token. “The community estcoin would be structured to support the objective of growing our new digital nation by incentivizing more people around the world to apply for and make greater use of e-Residency,” wrote Korjus. “This includes encouraging investors and entrepreneurs to use e-Residency as their platform for trusted ICO activity.”

The second use case would be an ‘identity estcoin.’ In this case, the cryptocurrency would allow members of the e-Residency society to do such things as digitally sign documents or log into services safely and securely. These tokens could not be sold or traded — they would be inextricably linked to their owners.

The third use case is the most controversial. The ‘euro estcoin’ would have a value linked to that of the euro, the fiat currency used in Estonia. Korjus claims this estcoin wouldn’t be an alternative to the euro, the creation of which is currently prohibited for any nation within the euro zone, but would instead be a token that combines cryptocurrency’s advantages with the stability of fiat currency.”

I can see all of those use cases coming to fruition but what excites me the most is all the use cases than I can’t see coming.  For it’s fairly safe to assume that some kind of digital currency will be a part of our daily existence in the near future.  Trying to predict which one and in what regard is a whole different story.

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Is Estcoin the Greatest Idea Ever?

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