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Archive for November, 2018

#1,406 – Heart Patch

Suffering a heart attack is one of my biggest fears.  Along with heights, the dark, swallowing a spider while I sleep, accidentally eating a Tofu burger, getting bitten by a snake, and dying before I get a chance to find out how Game of Thrones ends.

Because the problem with a heart attack is that it could come out of nowhere to kill you.  Right now one of my arteries may even be 99% clogged and I’d have no idea.  Thankfully, there may soon be something that can be done to treat heart attacks that would not only repair any damage but also potentially prevent them from happening again.  And if so, we’d have stem cells to thank.

According to Futurism, “Each year, 735,000 people in the U.S. alone suffer heart attacks. And because survivors’ hearts are damaged, more than a third face an increased risk of future heart failure.

We know that stem cells can help damaged hearts heal, but getting the cells to integrate with the blood-pumping organs has been a challenge — often, the heart tissue doesn’t fully retain the stem cells.

Now, an international team of researchers thinks it’s found a solution: a tiny patch covered in microneedles that deliver the stem cells directly into heart tissue.”

Now, this isn’t the first time that microneedle technology has made headlines.  Recently, it was reported that this same approach could be used to create painless drug delivery needles thereby eliminating everyone’s biggest fear.  Which begs the question: what else can microneedle technology be used for?!

Image result for heart microneedles stem cells

Is a microneedle heart patch the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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#1,405 – Synthesia

Here’s an attention-grabbing headline for you: “New technology has the potential to revolutionize society! OR tear it apart!”

Okay, consider me intrigued.  So, what is this all-powerful new technology that’s on the horizon?  What kind of advancement would have the power to either unite or divide us?!?

Well, the tech in question is simple enough: a humble software program known as Synthesia with the ability to translate the spoken language in any video.  A modern day babel fish.  But dig a little deeper and you can see why some people might be skeptical of such ability.

As Futurism explains:

“According to Synthesia’s website, the purpose of its AI-powered dubbing tech is to create a world without language barriers in which anyone can enjoy any video content, regardless of its language of origin.

‘We hope that this new medium will foster cultural exchange, joy and deeper understanding in the same manner that the written word has done for centuries,’ the company writes on its homepage.

Others are far less idealistic. They envision a future in which malicious actors use software like Synthesia’s to create deepfakes — videos in which a person appears to say something they didn’t actually say.”

Considering how big of an issue Fake News already is you can imagine just how much of a headache it would be to live in a world where recorded messages could be altered with ease.  But at the same time perhaps that’s a risk worth taking, especially if it’ll lead to a world where there are no language barriers, where every single person can enjoy the entire world’s entertainment options regardless of their country of origin.

Tradeoffs like this occur all the time in society.  Consider the risks associated with having powder keg gas stations on residential street corners.  A tradeoff we gladly accept for the convenience of being able to travel quickly via automobiles.  Or the tradeoffs that we have accepted with using the Internet, trading the risk of identity theft, cyber bullying, hacking, etc. for the convenience of social media, online shopping and having information at our fingertips.

So when it comes down to it we may just have to accept similar tradeoffs if we want to reap the benefits of utilizing Synthesia’s amazing new technology.  And if you ask me I say we go for it.

Image result for synthesia video translate

Is Synthesia the Greatest Idea Ever?

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It sounds like the plot of a Black Mirror episode come to life.  News that China is actually moving forward with a dystopian plan to track and judge every single citizen based on their actions.  With the program getting kicked off in Beijing over the next few years.

As Bloomberg explains, “The capital city will pool data from several departments to reward and punish some 22 million citizens based on their actions and reputations by the end of 2020, according to a plan posted on the Beijing municipal government’s website on Monday. Those with better so-called social credit will get ‘green channel’ benefits while those who violate laws will find life more difficult.”

How so?  Well, travel benefits might be one such way a person’s social credit score is put to use.  Imagine, for instance, that you need a certain score in order to purchase a first class ticket.  Or that you may not even be allowed to purchase a ticket at all if your score is too low.  In this way social credit scores become a form of wealth, with high scores and the perks that come along with them becoming the new status symbols.

Personally I love this plan as it harkens back to my old idea for the Game of Life.  Brush your teeth and earn points.  Visit the doctor and earn points.  Donate to charity and earn a bucket load of points.  Rinse.  Wash.  Reap.  The benefits that is.  As the world becomes a better place around you.  Think about it.

With rewards in place for cleaning and recycling there would be less pollution.  With rewards for going to the doctor there would be less illness.  With rewards in place for studying we’d all be more educated.  There’d even be less crime, since committing even a petty crime, would devastate not just your own social status, but your entire families as well.

Of course we’d prefer that people just did these things out of the kindness of their heart.  Prefer it if their motivations were coming from a moral high ground or that they were at the very least just motivated to follow the law.  But it would be naïve of us to think that morality and lawfulness work 100% of the time.  Clearly they do not.  Perhaps gamification could fill in the missing pieces.  Address those citizens that slip through the cracks of the current system.  Considering how glued we already are to our cell phones and how intrinsic gaming culture already is in our lives, it’s fair to wonder if such a plan could actually work.

However, the concept is not without risk.  First of all, there’s no way of knowing the social impacts that this system will have.  Will people with low scores, even if no fault of their own, be ostracized from society?  With it further drive a wedge between the haves and the have nots.  Furthermore, could the government unfairly reward or deduct points to certain groups of people that it favors?  Could the system be hacked or gamed to the advantage of certain people?  And how would a foreign tourist without an existing social credit score even be able to navigate through the city?

These are all good questions.  Ones that I don’t have the answer to.  Hopefully China does.  Or we may all be in for a plot twist that we never saw coming.

Image result for china social credit

Is a social credit system the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Last week while driving through the Arizona countryside I pulled over onto a scenic overlook in order to take some pictures of an epic sunset.  I was enjoying the views when suddenly my evening was disrupted by the sounds of an annoying drone buzzing overhead.  Was the drone taking pictures of me?  Or just of the sunset?  Oblivious to the fact that it was ruining my life?  Either way, it was annoying and I had to leave the area immediately.

Fortunately, there may soon be a solution for dealing with noisy drones.  A new approach to designing aircraft that could revolutionize artificial flight.  And it’s all thanks to researchers from M.I.T. who have invented a plane capable of flying without any moving parts.

As Reuters puts it, “Some 115 years after the first powered flight, scientists have developed a radical new approach toward flying in the form of a small, lightweight and virtually noiseless airplane that gets airborne with no moving parts like propellers or turbine blades…[the] unmanned airplane [is] powered not by engines that burn fossils fuels but by ion wind propulsion, also called electro-aerodynamic thrust.  The aircraft, called Version 2 EAD Airframe, or V2, weighs only 5.4 pounds (2.45 kg) with a wingspan of 16-1/2 feet (5 meters).”

Considering the size of the test craft and the duration that it flew for we clearly have a long way to go before we’re designing jumbo jets in this same manner.  But it is an interesting proof of concept at the very least.  One that could hopefully pave the way for noiseless drones at the very least.

Image result for plane with no moving parts

Is a plane with no moving parts the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,402 – Graphene Energy

Did you know that Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were good friends who once bet on what the future of energy would be as the world looked to move on from coal and steam?  Ford bet on gasoline and Edison on electricity obviously.  And we all know who won that bet as electric cars are just now starting to become viable.  Which begs the question: if we were to revisit this bet today which technologies would we betting on?  Would it be solar power?  Hydrogen? Nuclear fusion?  Something else?

Well, if I was betting man I’d bet on something else.  For scientists have just made a spectacular discovery.  One with the potential to change the world forever.

According to Futurism, “Physicists at the University of Arkansas have invented a nano-scale power generator that could potentially use the movement of graphene to produce clean, unlimited energy. Called a Vibration Energy Harvester, this development provides evidence for the theory that two-dimensional materials could be a source of usable energy.”

I’ve always suspected that graphene, the wonder material with amazing properties, would be the key to our future.  But I never suspected that it could also be used as a clean energy source.

The Futurism article explains more about how this amazing breakthrough came to be:

“Once they started analyzing the sheets point-by-point, they made an amazing discovery — the graphene was essentially rippling, flipping up and down through a combination of small, random motions and larger, sudden movements known as Lévy flights. This was the first time such movement had been observed in an inorganic, atomic-scale system. The team determined that the movements were due to ambient heat at room temperature.”

Furthermore, “Because of graphene’s sheet-like nature, its atoms vibrated in tandem, which sets it apart from the random vibrations you would see in, say, molecules of a liquid. [Professor Paul] Thibado said to Research Frontiers, ‘This is the key to using the motion of 2D-materials as a source of harvestable energy.’ [Because] the tandem vibrations cause ripples in the graphene sheet from which we can harness energy using the latest nanotechnology.”

As amazing as this is it’s likely too early to tell whether harvesting the motion of 2-D materials like graphene will replace gasoline one day.  But I wouldn’t bet against it.

Image result for henry ford thomas edison bet

What do you think the future of energy will be?  Would you be willing to bet on it?

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People are likely going to be up in arms over news that a rogue Chinese scientist has allegedly (for the first-time ever) successfully used the CRISPR gene-editing technique to create a designer baby.  A set of female twins in fact.  Religious groups will likely object to the God like power that scientists now wield while ethicists will likely lament the potential for undesirable traits to be eliminated.

But when you dive deeper into the news is what was done really all that bad?  After all, the modification wasn’t done to remove undesirable traits.  The hair and eye color wasn’t altered.  Down Syndrome and autism weren’t rooted out.  It wasn’t given super strength or smarts.  At the end of the day there would be no discernible difference between these babies and any other.  Except for one key difference.  These particular babies can’t get AIDS.

As the New York Times reports, “The researcher, He Jiankui, said that he had altered a gene in the embryos, before having them implanted in the mother’s womb, with the goal of making the babies resistant to infection with H.I.V. He has not published the research in any journal and did not share any evidence or data that definitively proved he had done it.

But his previous work is known to many experts in the field, who said — many with alarm — that it was entirely possible he had.”

Now I get the obvious concerns but if this is what we’re going to use the technology for, if the usage is purely benevolent, and done to eradicate or prevent diseases, then shouldn’t we be all in?  As long as there are safeguards in place and we agree on appropriate uses shouldn’t we be heralding this decision instead of deriding it?

I think so.  Especially when you consider that we may even need this technology to save us all– by somehow making us all resistant to the damaging effects of climate change.

Image result for china crispr babies

Is creating a designer baby the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,400 – Dim Sun

A new report from the United Nations states that the world isn’t moving fast enough in responding to Climate Change.  This on the heels of a damning report from the United States that suggests there will be grave economic consequences, and sooner rather than later, as a result of the damaging hurricanes, wildfires, and floods that climate change has been fueling.

Such reports and the obvious evidence that our own eyes are showing us has finally brought climate science to the forefront of the political discourse, even if President Trump continues to deny the findings.  So much so that radical geoengineering efforts are seriously being considered as viable options towards preventing a global catastrophe.

One such option that has recently been discussed is the idea of releasing particles into the atmosphere that will block out some of the sun, in theory, helping to lower global temperatures.  Proponents of this plan suggest that it would work and buy us some more time to deal with the root causes of Climate Change.  Detractors on the other hand suggest that the idea won’t work, will be a waste of money, and could make things even worse if our efforts were to backfire.  But be that as it may, we may not have any other choice.  We may be fast-approaching Hail Mary time.

With that in mind researchers from Harvard University are moving forward with plans to test out how releasing chemicals into the atmosphere will play out, tracking dispersal patterns while they collect atmospheric data.

As Futurism explains, “The Harvard experiment will operate at a tiny scale, according to Nature. The researchers will send a steerable balloon up into the stratosphere, where it’ll release about 100 grams of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate, which is the active ingredient in antacids, is a tempting candidate for geoengineering efforts because simulations show that it could stay in the air for years as it reflects sunlight.

After releasing the calcium carbonate, the balloon will use a laser imaging system to watch how the particles disperse — data the researchers can use to model how larger quantities of the substance might behave.”

However, let us all hope that releasing larger quantities of calcium carbonate is something that we never have to do.  That playing God is something that we never have to do.  That we can instead somehow rally around these latest dire warnings and finally come together as a species to save our beloved planet before it’s too late.  I know that’s easier said than done.  But it may be our only hope.  Outside of dimming the sun that is.

Image result for dimming the sun

Is dimming the sun a viable option to combat climate change?

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