Archive for January, 2020

#1,603 – Solar Foods

As much as we’d like there to be, there probably isn’t a miracle cure out there to solve the problem of Climate Change.  Certainly a technological solution isn’t just going to materialize out of thin air.  Or will it?  Because as outlandish as it sounds, it may soon be possible to create food out of thin air in a sustainable way that would significantly reduce our carbon emissions.

As CNN reports:

“Feeding an ever-growing population is putting a huge strain on the Earth’s resources. Agriculture is one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gases, with animal farming in particular responsible for 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from beef and dairy cattle.

On top of that, farming uses vast areas of land that might otherwise be home to carbon-storing forests; it also guzzles huge amounts of water — up to 70% of water-use worldwide, according to the OECD.

But a Helsinki-based company is trying to change that.

‘In order to save the planet from climate change, we need to disconnect food production from agriculture,’ says Pasi Vainikka, CEO of Solar Foods.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Our current way of doing things isn’t sustainable.  We’re running out of land, accelerating Climate Change, eating ourselves into oblivion.  We need a better method of food production.  A cleaner method.  And stat.  But how exactly would we i.e. Solar Foods go about doing that?

According to Vice

“To produce the powder, Solar Foods first creates hydrogen through electrolysis (splitting water cells in a bioreactor using electricity). It then adds the hydrogen to carbon dioxide, as well as nutrients such as potassium, sodium, and phosphorus, and feeds this into microbes derived from soil.

The entire process results in cells that Vainikka estimates are 50 percent protein, 25 percent carbohydrates, and 5 to 10 percent fat.

According to Vainikka, the powder could be consumed in three ways: as a protein supplement to existing foods, such as breads or drinks; as an ingredient in plant-based meat alternatives, such as veggie burgers; or as a sustainable source of amino acids needed to create lab-grown meat products.”

This protein would be known as Solein and it would change everything.  The way we eat, the way we live, the way we think about agriculture and sustainability.  Perhaps a technological solution for Climate Change was within reach after all.  Just waiting for us to pull it out of thin air.

Image result for food from air solein

Is Solar Foods the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Prevailing wisdom suggests that we’ll invoke Minority Report when we interact with computer interfaces in the future, waving our hands and gesturing wildly in lieu of using a mouse.  But what about when it comes to typing? What will replace the keyboard? Perhaps Samsung’s SelfieType could be the answer as we utilize our phone’s cameras to type on an imaginary keyboard.

As The Verge puts it, “The proof will definitely be in the typing, though. ‘Invisible keyboards’ already exist using laser projection, but they’re a novelty rather than a serious tool. They tend to be slow and inaccurate, and if you’re carrying around a little brick of a laser projector you may as well go the whole hog and swap that for a decent Bluetooth keyboard.

Because SelfieType works using your phone’s camera, it’ll at least eliminate the problem of carrying around accessories. But using machine vision to track the individual movement of your fingers sounds tricky, and you’ll presumably have to keep your hands in one place for everything to work correctly — a tough ask without the physical feedback of a keyboard.”

Yet despite those obvious logistical concerns I am still rather intrigued by the idea of an invisible keyboard.  And that’s coming from someone who somewhat romanticizes the writing process, especially the aesthetically pleasing look and feel of an antique typewriter wherein the pitter patter of each keystroke seems to add a sense of weight and importance to the words being conveyed.  I’m intrigued though because of the potential for this method of typing to change literature itself.

You see, throughout history there have been examples of new technologies giving birth to new methods of communication.  Consider all the novels that have been drafted on mobile phones or stories told exclusively through tweets.  Just as the creation of the Haiku forced people to create in a very specific way so too does the creation of new technology whether it be a new tool or a new blogging platform.  Just look at how quickly people have transition to using memes, emojis, and now Tiktok videos to tell stories in new and exciting ways.

Perhaps an invisible keyboard will force people to similarly forge a new relationship with that which they desire to create; our methodology evolving from putting pen to paper to becoming conditioned by the power of emphatic keystrokes on typewriters to now ditching tools entirely to create with something that we can’t even see.  Will doing so change how we create?  The types of stories we tell?  How we tell them?  Or will it rather anticlimactically just be business as usual?

I guess there’s really only one way to find out.  One invisible key stroke at a time.

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is SelfieType the Greatest Idea Ever?

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It’s the Holy Grail of Modern Science.  Something tantalizingly close yet forever out of reach.  Something, that if it ever came to pass, would change everything.  Irrevocably.  And it may soon be within reach.  That’s right.  A cure for cancer is right around the corner.  And not just one specific kind of cancer but rather all cancers.  In everyone.

As Futurism puts it, “On Monday, researchers from Cardiff University published a new study in the journal Nature Immunology detailing their discovery of a T-cell equipped with a new type of T-cell receptor (TCR) that recognizes a molecule called MR1.

This molecule appears on the surface of many types of cancer cells as well as healthy cells, but T-cells equipped with this TCR know to kill only cancer cells.

And not just the kind linked to a single type of cancer, either. When the Cardiff researchers equipped T-cells in lab tests with this new TCR, the cells killed lung, skin, blood, colon, breast, bone, prostate, ovarian, kidney and cervical cancer cells — all while ignoring healthy cells.”

Now comes the hard part: waiting.  For further research and animal testing to occur.  For clinical trials to take place.  For a treatment to be developed.  But if this early research is any indication it’ll be well worth the wait.  Now if only we can do something about the deadly Coronavirus before it wipes us all out…

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Is a Universal Cancer Cure the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,600 – Mojo Vision

I’ve long maintained that it would be Augmented Reality, not Virtual Reality, that would capture the hearts and minds of the general public as people would naturally prefer the idea of seeing useful information overlaid onto the real world instead of being entirely transported into a standalone virtual world.  The logistics made more sense too.  Instead of being tethered to a bulky headset or requiring the use of special gadgets, AR would likely be powered by smartphones, something all of us already have.

But now comes an exciting new approach from a company that just came out of stealth mode: Augmented Reality contact lenses, so advanced, they appear to give us superpowers.

Mark Sullivan at Fast Company explains:

“When I looked into the user interface of Mojo Vision’s augmented reality contact lenses, I didn’t see anything at first except the real world in front of me. Only when I peeked over toward the periphery did a small yellow weather icon appear. When I examined it more closely, I could see the local temperature, the current weather, and some forecast information. I looked over to the 9 o’clock position and saw a traffic icon that gave way to a frontal graphic showing potential driving routes on a simple map. At 12 o’clock, I found my calendar and to-do information. At the bottom of my view was a simple music controller.

Rather than wearing Mojo’s contact lenses—which aren’t yet ready to demo—I was looking at a mock-up of a future, consumer version of their interface through a VR headset. But the point was made. Instead of offering the pretty holograms of the Magic Leap and HoloLens headsets, Mojo aims to place useful data and imagery over your world—and boost your natural vision—using tech that can barely be seen. The startup named the lenses ‘Mojo’ because it wants to build something that’s like getting superpowers for your eyes.”

The superpower part comes from the idea that these lenses will do more than just add useful information to our field of views.  They’ll fix and even enhance our vision entirely.  According to Fast Company, “The Mojo lenses, for example, can detect the text on a road sign in the distance and display it clearly. They can magnify objects or project them onto the part of the person’s retina that can still see well. The lenses can help people detect objects in front of them by increasing the contrast between the shades or colors of the objects. The lenses can also superimpose graphic lines over the hard-to-see edges of objects within the wearer’s view.”

But it’s worth noting that AR is still going to be the driving force behind Mojo’s mass appeal.  Just think about all of the potential use-cases, from military personnel seeing up to date battlefield information to party guests being able to put names to faces on the fly.  Adds Fast Company, “if you’re leaving the airport—perhaps with your hands full of luggage—the lenses might display arrows pointing the way to your car in the parking lot. They might put a pointer over your Uber ride as it arrives, and display the license plate number and other information. If someone rings your doorbell at home, the lenses might display a video of the person standing on the porch.”

In a way, it’s almost like putting the entire Internet inside your vision.  Instead of having to take out your phone or tablet to look up information, everything you need will now be accessible via a quick glance.  It’s a paradigm shifting technology.  Something that could be more transformative than mobile phones ever were.

And considering Mojo’s AI and AR infused capabilities it’s possible that the technology could scale all the way up to a Black Mirroresque level where these lenses capture and record everything we look at – people, products, places – at first to better serve us relevant information and targeted ads – but then to possibly keep tabs on what we’re doing, where we’re going, who we’re interacting with, and what we’re looking at.

So, while on the one hand it may be the best of both worlds (the real and the virtual) it may on the other hand be more of a curse than a blessing because like any useful technology, it could ultimately be used for good or bad, for altruistic or nefarious purposes.

It’s going to be up to us, the end user, to determine what we’re comfortable with and how far the technology goes.  But either way, it’s clear that AR is here to stay and that we’re all about to get our Mojo back.

Image result for mojo ar contact lenses

Is Mojo the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,599 – Xenobots

We’re only a few weeks into 2020 and already have an early idea of the year contender: Xenobots, the world’s first ever living robots!  These remarkable organisms are both alive (made of living cells) and entirely programmable by researchers.  Giving them the ability to do tasks that no one/nothing else is capable of.

Dezeen explains:

“A team of scientists at Tufts University in the US have created xenobots, tiny robots made from frog skin and heart cells that can walk, work together and heal themselves.  Algorithms define the configurations of [these] frog cells, which are then constructed by humans to create a living robot that the scientists have called a xenobot, after the Xenopus laevis species of frog they are made from.  These aquatic organisms live for up to seven days, and the team hopes that in future they can be used to deliver drugs into people’s bloodstreams, clean up microplastics from the ocean, or manage radioactive waste spills.”

That’s quite a To Do list for something so small.  But then again Xenobots are pretty amazing.

As Wired puts it, “The frog cells aren’t special in and of themselves—it’s the emergent behavior they collectively produce that’s so remarkable.”

A behavior that could change life as we know it.  In fact, it could even change the very definition of what it means to be alive.

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Are Xenobots the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#1,598 – Serendipity

Lately I’ve been reading a book (The Formula) about algorithms and all the ways they’ve changed our lives.  One of the biggest case studies in the book focuses on online dating.

I bring this up not to lament the fact that ALL of these various algorithms have failed me, but rather to point out one idea in particular.  Known as Serendipity, it was created by MIT’s Human Dynamics Group and was designed to make it easier to meet people in real life i.e. make it easier for serendipitous encounters to occur.  It would do this by having the phones of two potential love-birds automatically interact with one another when within range, exchanging information via Bluetooth when there’s a compatible person nearby.

Similarly I think we should use this technology i.e. the ability for phones to communicate with one another when in range to make driving safer.  The basic premise is that if your phone detects that another nearby phone is being used (and by nearby I mean within the car next to you) then your device will beep, casually alerting you to the fact that the other car in question may have a driver who is not paying as much attention to the road as they should be.  Thereby enabling you to give a wider berth to that car or steer clear entirely.

There are other potential use cases as well for the idea of phones being able to automatically transfer information to one another when within range of another person or entity with similar interests.  Business card information could be transferred in this manner as well.  As could alerts for people looking for players for a pickup basketball game or notifications of people interested in buying/selling various goods – buyers and sellers being matched up on the fly, making it so that you don’t have to bother people who aren’t interested at all in what you’re hawking.

Connecting strangers is just one potential use case.  Another could be re-connecting friends.  Such as alerts that you let you know when your friends or acquiescence are in the same public place as you, such as at a sporting event or concert.

These ideas aren’t necessarily new.  Bluetooth technology has been around for a while now.  Department stores make use of it to push coupons to you.  It’s how you pair your headphones to your mobile or your phone to your car’s speaker system.  But the idea of having phones communicate with one another automatically for the purposes of exchanging information when certain parameters are met still seems underutilized.  Perhaps we can change that.

Image result for serendipity app

Was Serendipity the Greatest Idea Ever?

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What’s old is new again.  At least when it comes to one new photo app, David’s Disposable (created by YouTuber David Dobrik) that’s been gaining popularity at a break-neck pace thanks to its old school approach: making people wait to see their photos as if they were waiting for the images from a disposal camera to be developed.

According to The Verge, “People who download the app can use it to take photos, but they have to wait until 9AM the following day for the photos to become available. The idea is to simulate the wait time it takes for disposable camera photos to be developed. Photos can also be ordered as prints directly from the app, and they take about three weeks to show up.”

On the surface this sounds like a dumb idea.  In today’s day and age of instant gratification who wants to wait around for hours and hours to see content?  Especially their own content.  We want our images to disappear in seconds not linger around in the digital ether.

But at the same time I kind of like the idea.  I can imagine how exciting it would be waiting for a new batch of photos to appear.  Similar to how exciting it can be to check the mailbox when you’re waiting for a college acceptance letter.  Especially if you were drunk the night before and can’t remember what happened.  Going through the batch at 9 am would be like viewing the end credit scene at the end of The Hangover where you finally get to see what really happened during the previous night’s exploits.  It may even be worth setting an alarm for when you’re hungover.

A friend of mine who was critical of the idea sarcastically blurted out, “What’s next? TVs that don’t come with remotes so that you’ll have to go back to standing up and walking over to the TV whenever you want to change the channel?!”  An idea that I would actually be on board with if the TV came along with a bunny ear antenna as well.  Similarly, if we could bring back rotatory phones that force us to painstakingly dial one number at a time I would be okay with that too.  Perhaps my opinion is watered down by the fact that I love collecting antiques but at the same time I think there’s something to be said for nostalgia, for slowing down and smelling the roses.  One photo at a time.

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Is David’s Disposable the Greatest Idea Ever?

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