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Archive for June, 2019

I’ve spent a pretty significant amount of time on Earth so far.  Thirty seven years.  About half of an average lifespan.  And yet I don’t feel like I’ve lived a significant amount of time.  Don’t feel satisfied at all with the time I’ve had.  When I find myself on my deathbed I’ll be lamenting that it all went by too fast, wishing that I had just a little bit more time to explore. So is there anything that we can do to rectify the situation that I find myself in?  Any way that we can make it so that I can live longer?  Can we reverse the aging process or download our consciousnesses when The Singularity hits in a few years?  Maybe.  Perhaps. But in the interim there may be something else that we can try that won’t involve playing God with our biology or merging with machines: hacking time.

As Wired explains, “Seekers of immortality are saddled with the body, the physical brain, the fact of entropy. Eventually, things fall apart; cells stop dividing, DNA mutates, organs fail. In a piece for The New Yorker, Tad Friend neatly divided the ‘Immortalists’ into two camps: the Meat Puppets, who ‘believe that we can retool our biology and remain in our bodies’; and the RoboCops, who ‘believe that we’ll eventually merge with mechanical bodies and/or with the cloud.’ Both groups face potentially insurmountable challenges. The Meat Puppets struggle against the laws of nature and forces of decay. The RoboCops, who speak of ‘uploading’ minds as if by zip file, are stuck with the complexities of consciousness. But there may be a third way forward, a workaround that sidesteps some of the problems of the first two and targets subjective experience. Call them the Time Hackers.  Like the RoboCops, the Time Hackers want to tap into your brain. But their goal isn’t to transfer the mind—’the ghost in the machine’—elsewhere. Instead, the Time Hackers want to modify consciousness, deceive the ghost inside your head, and make you feel as though you’re living forever.”

How would they do this? It’s simple.  Sort of.

You see, we all experience time distortions.  Gym class seems to fly by while math class seems to drag on forever.  Weekends are gone in an instant while boring workdays hit a lull at 2:30 and never end.  Same amount of time.  Different results.  Dreams are the same way. An action packed series of events that seems like a full length feature film unfurling in your mind all takes place in a manner of minutes since you last hit the snooze button.  It seems impossible, improbable even, but our night long dreams never last for the full time that we’re asleep.  Rather they all take place in a much shorter amount of time during a particular sleep cycle.  Why is that?  Why is it that we are able to perceive time differently depending on what we’re doing or what our minds are doing?  And can we use that fact to our advantage?

Well, as it turns out we may very well be able to.  Consider hallucinogenic drugs.  Similar to dreaming they help to alter our consciousness and our perceptions of time by disrupting our mind’s ability to detect where our physical bodies are in space.  As Einstein famously pointed out space and time are intrinsically connected.  It may therefore stand to reason that if we can physically alter how our bodies perceive space then we also can alter how our bodies perceive time.  Cause and effect. In theory, this may mean that there could be a way, perhaps with some kind of neural implant or virtual reality device, that we could alter our perception of time on demand.  While real life is essentially paused, you would be free to explore some other virtual world for hours on end just like you do when you’re dreaming.  Your own private Narnia.  The plot of Inception brought to life.  With these so called Time Hackers being the ones to pursue the development and implantation of such a device.

If this actually happens, if we actually get to the point where we have technology at our disposal that lets us manipulate time this opens up a whole slew of possibilities for in addition to feeling like we had more time we’d actually have more time with which to be productive.  Time that we could use to binge-watch shows, learn new things, or get more work done.

As Wired puts it:

“As neurotechnology improves and social mores shift, what sounds strange will become mundane, even as ethical dilemmas arise. (Would it be wrong for a student to spend 30 simulated hours to one real-world hour learning calculus? What about thirty simulated years?) Complications aside, wouldn’t you buy yourself more time if you could?”

Of course, this creates all sort of ethical dilemmas as well.  Would there be a socio-economic rift that develops when it’s only the rich people that get to use this technology?  Would regular society come to a screeching halt when everyone prefers to live in time distorted virtual reality instead? Would evil corporations force their workers to work overtime inside of these virtual worlds in order to maximize a worker’s full potential during the day?  Would prisoners be forced to live out multiple life sentences within just one normal lifespan?  In short, is too much of a good thing a bad thing? The answer is probably yes.

So, while we’d all probably prefer to have a little bit more time with which to work we have to be careful not to go overboard and completely neglect the organic human experience, losing ourselves in the process.  Because no matter how much more time we have there’s no substitute for pausing time the old fashioned way, by stopping to smell the roses and living more in the present moment. As Master Shifu put it in Kung Fu Panda: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery.  But today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.”

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Is hacking time the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Swipe left to reject someone.  Right to match with them.  Anyone who has tried online dating is familiar with this concept regardless of their preferred app.  And yet swiping hasn’t really caught on anywhere else.  Social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram involve scrolling, not swiping.  Attention grabbing activity for sure.  But not nearly as addictive or fun as swiping.  Which is why dating apps gravitated towards swiping in the first place.  So, if swiping is really all that then let’s expand what we use it for.  Let’s swipe on everything.  All at the same time.

What I’m imagining then is one app to rule them all.  The one and only app that we would ever need.  A place where people could swipe for dates or jobs or to find things to do or buy.  A one stop shop for everything.  That’s because mixed in with all of your dates would be advertisements, pitches from people seeking help, coupons from local restaurants, offers to buy various products and items.  It would be a cross between Bumble, Craigslist, TaskRabbit, Facebook Marketplace, and Groupon.  Everything you need or would ever want.  All in one place.

It doesn’t have to stop at connections or offers either.  News and information could be spread through this app as well as swiping right on an article could save it to your e-reader so that you can read it later.  New songs and movie trailers could be pitched to you as well with swiping indicating whether or not you would be interested in checking them out.  The app providing invaluable immediate feedback to content creators.  A global focus group of sorts.  New emails could even get initially fed into this app allowing us to swipe left on spam mail helping to inch us closer towards inbox zero before we even open our mailboxes.

This would all happen all within the same interface.  Unlike Bumble you wouldn’t need to toggle to different modes.  Everything would be mixed together.  However, it wouldn’t be a total free for all.  Everyone’s experience would be completely different with their personal preferences and chosen topics of interests providing their unique content mix.  And yes if you are married you can completely opt out of the dating portion of the app.  No other content can be removed.  Even if you aren’t looking for a new job you’ll still receive tempting offers because, hey, you never know.

All in all, having everything you would ever need from news and advertisements to socialization and entertainment all in one place would be a real game changer, cutting down on the number of apps we would need while increasing the opportunities presented to us.

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Is Swiper the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Last week when Facebook unveiled plans for Libra, their new cryptocurrency, everyone focused on how this new digital coin would impact global financial markets and rightfully so.  It was, after all, a financial instrument that we were talking about.  But hidden in their white paper was mention of an idea that would go hand in hand with a digital currency: the formation of a definitive decentralized digital identity for users. Something that would enable people without government issued forms of identification to secure loans and otherwise control their own data as they move throughout the world wide web and the real world.  Which makes Libra a far more valuable idea than if it was just a pure currency.

MIT Technology Review explains:

“But what is a ‘decentralized and portable digital identity’? In theory, it provides a way to avoid having to trust a single, centralized authority to verify and take care of our identifying credentials. For internet users, it would mean that instead of relying on Facebook or Google’s own log-in tool to provide our credentials to other websites, we could own and control them ourselves. In theory, this could better protect that information from hackers and identity thieves, since it wouldn’t live on company servers.

The concept (sometimes called ‘self-sovereign identity’) is something of a holy grail in the world of internet technology, and developers have been pursuing it for years. Big companies including Microsoft and IBM have been working on decentralized identity applications for a while now, and so have a number of startups.

But it’s more than just an internet thing. For the roughly one billion people around the world without any kind of identifying credentials at all, such technology could make it possible to access financial services that they cannot today, starting with things like bank accounts and loans.

Helping some of those people must be part of what Facebook meant when it said in the Libra white paper that the new system is intended to ‘serve as an efficient medium of exchange for billions of people around the world’ and ‘improve access to financial services.’ In some cases the currency itself might be able to do that, but in others it’s likely that users will need some form of identification to access a particular service. That’s probably why Libra’s developers call an open, portable identity standard a ‘prerequisite to financial inclusion.’”

So clearly this is a very big deal, “somewhat of a holy grail in the world of internet technology.” If that’s truly the case then we may have Facebook to thank for finally figuring it out.  See, Facebook isn’t all bad.  It may wind up saving the world after all.

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Is Self-Sovereign Identity the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Algorithms already recommend shows for us to watch on Netflix, songs for us to listen to on Spotify, and products for us to buy on Amazon but when it comes to reading good old fashioned books we are often on our own.  Sure, Amazon does make recommendations but those are just surface level recommendations.  Customers who bought this book also bought this book.  Or here are some other books by this same author.

But what if there was a way to make recommendations based on more subtle clues?  Such as you have an affinity for books with an orange cover so here are some more books with orange covers. Or here are some other books with strong female protagonists.  Well, in the near future that level of recommendation may be possible.  But that’s not all.  We may also have books that are interactive, gamified, and filled with all sorts of technological tricks that increase reader engagement.  And we’ll have all those thanks to a company called OverDrive.

According to Futurism:

“[CEO Steve] Potash envisions a slew of ways to improve books with AI, like smart assistants that take on the persona of an author, AR content that drops readers inside the historical scene they’re reading about, or games built into books that help students learn new words and concepts.

In the meantime, OverDrive is trudging ahead with backend AI systems, that either help libraries buy books that are more likely to circulate or help teachers find books that actually teach the lessons that they want to work into their curricula.”

These ideas aren’t exactly new.  They’re just hard to pull off.  And I wonder if they are even necessary.  Our imaginations already transport us to the historical scenes that we’re reading about and audio books already let authors talk directly to their audience.  But at the same time anything that increases reader engagement and gets more kids excited about reading is probably a good thing.  If there are ways to gamify reading that can let books compete with video games than that could be a real game changer.  Literally.

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Is OverDrive the Greatest Idea Ever?

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You know me.  I love outside the box thinking.  So it should come as no surprise that I’m in favor of the Tampa Bay Rays dramatic plan to become a two city team wherein they’d play half their games in Tampa and the other half in Montreal, the former home of the Expos.  The shocking proposal, which MLB has given the go ahead for Tampa to explore, makes sense to some degree.  Attendance figures have been dwindling for the Rays to the point where the Tampa/St. Petersburg area no longer seems like a viable destination for a professional baseball team.  Meanwhile Montreal has been clamoring for a team ever since the Expos ditched them in 2005 to become the Washington Nationals.

As shocking as this proposal is there is some historical precedent for it as teams have played in multiple cities before.  Stadium renovations or natural disasters have necessitated temporary relocations.  But a permanent two city solution? That seems extreme, even in a sport where the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim exist purely for marketing purposes.  Weirdness aside, the question remains: could this radical proposal work?  Well, the devil is in the details.  How would the split schedule work? Would Tampa get the early season games and Montreal the late season games, to work around the cold early season weather in the North and the propensity for rain in the South later on, negating the need for more expensive dome stadiums to be built?  Who would get to host playoff games?!  And most importantly, what about the human cost?  Would players need to buy homes in two cities?!  How would fans react if they know that they’ll only have their favorite players around for half the time? Instead of boosting interest by creating more demand for fewer games would there be even less interest, with fans figuring that there’s no point in engaging a product that is just going to be leaving soon anyway?

Those are all valid concerns but despite all of those reasons I’m still a fan of the idea anyway.  It’s bold.  It’s unique.  And quite frankly there isn’t much alternative.  Baseball in South Florida is failing as it is.  The Marlins may be even worse off than the Rays after their latest tear down.  At least the Rays have an exiting young nucleus and stacked farm system.  If any franchise can pull off a magic trick and excite two separate fan bases it may very well be the one that has future phenom Wander Franco in the fold.

Of course, none of this matters.  This likely isn’t even a real idea.  More likely just a ruse to pressure the politicians in Tampa Bay to pony up for a new stadium there.  But it should be a real idea.  Thanks to Climate Change the idea of playing in two cities has real merit.  For instance, franchises on the East Coast may find their stadiums under water in the near future, their fan bases displaced.  Might they consider relocating to more than one place as well, more so out of necessity than pure choice? Could the New York Yankees move to Cooperstown, New York?  The most storied franchise in the sport taking up residence in the most historic place.  Could the Boston Red Sox rename themselves the New England Red Sox, following in the Patriots footsteps, while they relocate to several locations throughout Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts? Would new stadiums pop up in growing cities like Nashville, Austin, San Antonio, Charlotte, Portland, etc.? Or smaller towns that already play host to minor league teams?  Could West Coast teams play some of their games in their spring training homes in Arizona? Or in foreign places like Mexico City and London, where exhibition and regular season games are already being played?

Only time will tell but for right now the timing is telling.  Where there’s smoke there’s usually fire and clearly something is amiss.  If not now then certainly in the near future the idea of a two city team could resurface in baseball or perhaps another sport.  For the time for thinking outside the box is firmly upon us.  There’s no going back now.

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Is a two city franchise the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I’ve always been fascinated by novel new materials especially the recent wave of 2D materials with unique properties that aren’t generally found in nature.  For instance, thanks to one of these new wonder materials, Graphene, we may soon have new building blocks that are light-weight, stronger than steel, capable of conducting electricity, and much more.

However, when it comes down to it my favorite new materials are those based on biomimicry, designs already found in nature that we tap into to create new innovations capable of filling the gaps in our tool kit.  Such as we just did when we recently created snail inspired reversible super glue!

As Phys.Org puts it, “If you’ve ever pressed a picture-hanging strip onto the wall only to realize it’s slightly off-center, you know the disappointment behind adhesion as we typically experience it: it may be strong, but it’s mostly irreversible. While you can un-stick the used strip from the wall, you can’t turn its stickiness back on to adjust its placement; you have to start over with a new strip or tolerate your mistake. Beyond its relevance to interior decorating, durable, reversible adhesion could allow for reusable envelopes, gravity-defying boots, and more heavy-duty industrial applications like car assembly.”

And if we can achieve this incredible feat of engineering we’ll have slimy snails to thank.

“A snail’s epiphragm—a slimy layer of moisture that can harden to protect its body from dryness—allows the snail to cement itself in place for long periods of time, making it the ultimate model in adhesion that can be switched on and off as needed.”

The perfect solution to those sticky situations that we may find ourselves in.

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Is Reversible Super Glue the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,522 – 6G

We barely even have 5G yet and already there is talk of something even better coming along: 6G! A truly game-changing technology that could offer blazingly fast connection speeds.  Instead of an incremental improvement over 4G connectivity, which is really what 5G is, 6G would be an exponential improvement. And while it may not be ready until 2030, the early indications are that it would be worth the wait.

MIT Technology Review explains all of the differences between 5G and 6G in greater detail:

“First some background. By any criteria, 5G is a significant advance on the previous 4G standards. The first 5G networks already offer download speeds of up to 600 megabits per second and have the potential to get significantly faster. By contrast, 4G generally operates at up to 28 Mbits/s—and most mobile-phone users will have experienced that rate grinding to zero from time to time, for reasons that aren’t always clear.

5G is obviously better in this respect and could even replace many landline connections.

But the most significant benefits go beyond these headline figures. 5G base stations, for example, are designed to handle up to a million connections, versus the 4,000 that 4G base stations can cope with. That should make a difference to communication at major gatherings such as sporting events, demonstrations, and so on, and it could enable all kinds of applications for the internet of things.

Then there is latency—the time it takes for signals to travel across the network. 5G is designed to have a latency of just a single millisecond, compared with 50 milliseconds or more on 4G. Any gamer will tell you how important that is, because it makes the remote control of gaming characters more responsive. But various telecoms operators have demonstrated how the same advantage makes it possible to control drones more accurately, and even to perform telesurgery using a mobile connection.

All this should be possible with lower power requirements to boot, and current claims suggest that 5G devices should have 10 times the battery lives of 4G devices.

So how can 6G better that? 6G will, of course, offer even faster download speeds—the current thinking is that they could approach 1 terabit per second.”

In an increasingly mobile world with an insatiable thirst for instantaneous data and real-time connections the importance of 6G can not be understated.  It may not be ready until 2030 but when it is ready it’ll likely be the driving force behind most of the technological advancements that will be pushing society forward a decade from now.  Powering everything from mobile devices and driverless cars to the Internet of Things and Virtual Reality.

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Is 6G the Greatest Idea Ever?

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