Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Facebook’s goal, their obsession really, is to make sure that everybody, and I do mean everybody, is one day connected to each other, and to their platform.   And they will stop at nothing to ensure that this goal is met, whether that’s creating virtual worlds through the Oculus Rift or inventing solar powered planes that beam internet access down to people in the developing world.   Now it appears that they may be on the verge of taking even more drastic measures to ensure that their goal is met: entering our minds.

As Recode puts it, “Facebook is building what it calls a “brain-computer speech-to-text interface,” technology that’s supposed to translate your thoughts directly from your brain to a computer screen without any need for speech or fingertips.  The idea is that this technology will be able to take what you’re thinking to yourself in silence, using non-invasive sensors that can read exactly what you intend to say, and turn it into readable text.”

The Verge adds:

“The technology is being developed by Facebook’s Building 8 research group, led by ex-DARPA director and former head of Google’s experimental research group Regina Dugan.  Dugan compared the technology to the cochlea in your ear, which translates sound into information readable by your brain. Facebook says it’s possible to reproduce the cochlea’s functions with hardware and then transmit that information to the brain by delivering it through a person’s skin.”

If Dugan is involved in the project there’s a high likelihood that it will be successful but that begs the question: would we want it to be?  Do we really want Facebook to know what we’re thinking when they already know too much about us based on what we willingly put out into the world?  In short, I think the answer is yes.

For starters, telepathy has long been at the top of our sci-fi wish lists along with flying cars, time travel, and teleportation.  Facebook’s approach sounds like it might be the closest we’ve come so far to achieving that goal and who knows, maybe it can one day lead to true telepathy.  Secondly, it sounds like it would improve our lives by making our social media interactions more efficient.  Why bother typing or speaking a message when you can just think it.  In theory, using this technology, students could pass notes to one another in class without their teacher finding out, and co-workers could do the same during a boring staff meeting.  And lastly, in a more practical sense, this approach could save a lot of money, maybe even make is possible for people in the developing world to interact with one another seamlessly.  After all, when you are communicating through your thoughts and skin you no longer have a need for a phone, tablet, or computer.

With all that being said is this concept still creepy?  Yes, definitely yes.  But, is it also cool?  An even bigger yes!

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Is Facebook’s brain to skin interface the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I absolutely love living in Arizona.  There’s nothing better than hiking through beautiful mountains on the way to a waterfall, reading in a public space, riding a bike along the Green Belt, or attending Spring Training baseball games.  And yet, if it wasn’t for the invention of the air conditioner, I wouldn’t be able to live here.

We take the inventions that make modern life possible for granted but without them we would be lost.  The phones in our pockets.  The TVs in our living rooms.  The cars in our driveways.  The food in our bellies.  It’s all made possible, one way or another, by science.  Forged in the fires of experimentation, trial and error, and peer review, today’s scientific research is tomorrow’s technology.  It’s not always easy.  Often it’s incredibly hard.  But in the end, it’s always worth it.

And yet, recently, science has come under attack.  The Trump Administration wants the United States to invest in fossil fuels and leave the Paris Agreement that’s leading the charge against Climate Change.  Federal programs designed to protect the environment are being defunded.  Scientists are being banned from discussing their findings publicly or from even sharing their results with their colleagues.  Ignorance is winning out.

It’s worth noting though that it’s always darkest before the dawn.  Today at the March For Science in Phoenix I saw the light start to shine through.  I saw thousands of people uniting for a cause that they believe in.  People of all ages, all races, all backgrounds, all religions came together in the name of science.  And they were joined on Earth Day by millions of other people in cities all across the world.

Standing in that crowd, among my peers, I couldn’t help but get goosebumps.  Looking at all the witty signs, hearing all the enthusiastic conversations, seeing the look of hope and optimism on everyone’s face, it was impossible to feel anything other than pure, unbridled inspiration.  Ignorance may be winning out right now but in the long run science is going to win out.  Yesterday, that’s something that I hoped would happen.  Today, it’s something that I know is going to happen.

Now the question becomes: where do we go from here.  Now that we’ve taken a stand, what comes next?  As the organizers of the Phoenix March For Science stated on their website, this rally is just the start of the fight, not the end:

“Science is often an arduous process, but it is also thrilling. A universal human curiosity and dogged persistence is the greatest hope for the future. This movement cannot and will not end with a march. Our plans for policy change and community outreach will start with marches worldwide and a teach-in at the National Mall, but it is imperative that we continue to celebrate and defend science at all levels – from local schools to federal agencies – throughout the world.”

I couldn’t agree more.  This is just the beginning.  Just like the Earth and all life on it, our fight will continue to evolve to deal with any challenges that come forward.  We’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that a culture of innovation continues to win out over a culture of ignorance.

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The March For Science in Phoenix was truly inspirational.

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Should I get Lasix eye surgery or hold out hope that Google Glass eventually comes out?  Do I wait for the Bionic Lens to come along and give me 3x better than 20/20 vision or do I make a fashion statement now with some Snapchat Spectacles?  With so many vision enhancing options on the market the decrepit, crooked-beyond-repair frames that I’ve been rocking since middle school just aren’t going to cut it anymore.  The time has finally come to upgrade my eye wear.  

But, wait!  Before I make a final decision it’s worth noting that there will soon be another option on the market: contact lenses capable of monitoring your health!  First up is blood sugar monitoring for diabetics.  But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

According to Gizmodo, “A research team led by Oregon State professor Gregory Herman has developed a transparent biosensor that, when added to a contact lens, could conceivably be used to detect symptoms an array of health conditions. Currently, a lab-tested prototype can only detect blood glucose levels, but in the future, the team believes it could detect other medical conditions, possibly even cancer.

What other kinds of medical conditions are we talking about?!?! 

As Herman tells Gizmodo, there is a lot of information that can be gleamed from a single tear drop.  Such as: “glucose, but also lactate (sepsis, liver disease), dopamine (glaucoma), urea (renal function), and proteins (cancers). Our goal is to expand from a single sensor to multiple sensors.”

This means that it’s likely that we’ll one day have health monitoring contact lenses for a whole array of ailments and illnesses.  On the one hand, this is great news as we can now “envision” a future where everyone is more in tune with their bodies, leading healthier lives.  But on the other hand, I now have an even harder decision to make.  In fact, I still have no “eye-dea” what to do.

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Are health monitoring contacts the Greatest Idea Ever?

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If you were going to create a fictional character that would act as a sort of pseudo Elon Musk, a proverbial savior for humanity, what sort of accomplishments would you list on his resume?  How would he have gained fame and made his fortune? What sort of accomplishments would he have?  Would he be responsible for a geo-engineering scheme that reversed climate change and saved the planet?  Would he have cured cancer?  Figured out a way to travel through space at faster than the speed of light?

If I were to author such a character his claim to fame would undoubtedly be figuring out a way to convert the salt water in our oceans into clean drinking water.  Thankfully when it comes time to put pen to paper I won’t have to use my imagination to sort out how he pulled off this incredible feat of modern ingenuity.  All I’d have to do is google Graphene Sieve.  That’s right.  Everyone’s favorite wonder material has done it again.

According to I Fucking Love Science, “The groundbreaking new finding comes from a group of scientists at The University of Manchester…They investigated the possibility of using graphene membranes, thin layers of the material, for water filtration. Previously, researchers had found that making these membranes resulted in them becoming swollen, allowing smaller salts through. This latest research, however, was able to prevent this swelling by using walls of epoxy resin on either side of the membrane to stop the expansion.”

They added, “By precisely controlling the pore size in the membranes, it was possible to sieve out common salts from water, and make it safe to drink. Tiny capillaries in the graphene-oxide membranes stop the salt from flowing, while letting water pass through.”

The implication of this discovery is huge.

According to Science Alert, “clean drinking water is still incredibly hard to come by in many parts of the world – the UN predicts that by 2025, 14 percent of the world’s population will encounter water scarcity. And many of those countries won’t be able to afford large-scale desalination plants.”

Thanks to this graphene based sieve now they won’t have to.  Instead of large-scale desalination plants you can now produce clean drinking water on a much smaller scale.  As Science Alert puts it, “Graphene oxide is also a lot easier and cheaper to make in the lab than single-layers of graphene, which means the technology will be affordable and easy to produce.”

Which means that instead of facing a future strewn with droughts, famine, and water wars we can instead look forward to living peaceful, healthy, and happy lives.  Graphene, the wonder material, has done it again!

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Is a Graphene Sieve the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The difference between Elon Musk and most other people is that when Elon Musk sees a problem, he takes it upon himself to fix it.  Energy.  Transportation.  Space travel.  Even traffic congestion in Los Angeles.  So when Musk made comments recently that he was concerned about the threat that Artificial Intelligence poses to humanity it was only a matter of time before he would decide to do something about it the only way he knows how: by starting a company to tackle the problem head on.

It’s with that in mind (pun intended) that we say hello to Musk’s latest venture: Neuralink, a company that will try to develop a computer-brain interface, similar to the fictional Neural Lace that Musk has made reference to, so that humans can keep pace with the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence.

As the Verge puts it:

“These types of brain-computer interfaces exist today only in science fiction. In the medical realm, electrode arrays and other implants have been used to help ameliorate the effects of Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and other neurodegenerative diseases. However, very few people on the planet have complex implants placed inside their skulls, while the number of patients with very basic stimulating devices number only in the tens of thousands. This is partly because it is incredibly dangerous and invasive to operate on the human brain, and only those who have exhausted every other medical option choose to undergo such surgery as a last resort.  This has not stopped a surge in Silicon Valley interest from tech industry futurists who are interested in accelerating the advancement of these types of far-off ideas. Kernel, a startup created by Braintree co-founder Bryan Johnson, is also trying to enhance human cognition.”

The ultimate goal is to get to the point where we can figure out a way to augment human potential.  A neural link or neural lace could enable its user to access the internet just by thinking about it, extend the capabilities of their memory, allow them to control an exoskeleton, or even self-diagnosis medical issues as they arise throughout the body.  It’s essentially a modern day spin on the old adage: if you can’t beat them, join them.   One that could very well be necessary if we want to avoid becoming enslaves by our robot overlords.

On the other hand there’s still so much about the brain that we don’t understand, the technology is still in its infancy, and most healthy people aren’t exactly going to being lining up for risky elective brain surgery no matter the potential reward.  This is definitely one technology where you’re not going to want to be an early adopter.

But if there’s anyone who can overcome those stigmas and hurdles it’s Musk.  At least, that is, until he turns his attention to something else that needs fixing.

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Is Neuralink the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Did you know that the reason why the Dinosaurs were so much bigger than modern day mammals and animals is that there used to be more oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere and as a result of this everything that lived at that time was super-sized.  In the millions of years since Dinosaurs roamed the Earth life has obviously adapted to make due with less oxygen.  And in fact the amount of Oxygen on Earth has actually steadily decreased even further over the last few years.  However, the amount of the decline was so minimal that we haven’t noticed its effects yet.  But that day is coming.  Thanks to climate change it’s only a matter of time before oxygen levels drop to an unsafe level.  And when that happens it’ll be too late to say I told you so to all those climate change deniers since we’d all be dead.

Thankfully, we probably won’t have to worry about that thanks to the exploits of a high school student named Wyatt Pontius who, in addition to having a name that sounds like a character in a Clint Eastwood movie, has figured out a way to change the composition of leaves so that they produce more oxygen.  An innovation that he has dubbed “releaf”.  An innovation that could very well save the planet and every living thing on it.

According to Uproxx:

“The result of his work was that the leaf was able to produce about 375% more oxygen than a typical leaf. It’s a potentially world saving discovery as we face increasingly lowering amounts of oxygen in the atmosphere.  A recent study showed that at the rate that the oceans’ temperatures are rising, the photosynthesis of phytoplankton could be interrupted by 2100. This is a big deal. Phytoplankton produces two thirds of the world’s oxygen. If it stopped producing, we’d be looking at a mass extinction of life on Earth. Those modified leaves will become essential in a hurry.”

In addition to counteracting the effects of climate change the releaf might also be a boon to space travel considering that it will enable us to produce more oxygen using fewer resources.  A cost cutting measure that could let us travel further away from home and for longer stretches of time.  If we’re ever going to become a space faring species it’s probably going to be because of a series of tiny innovations like this one instead of just any one thing.

Considering its impact on saving life on Earth and helping us to establish life on other planets it’s suffice to say that the releaf may not just be one of the greatest ideas of 2017, but of any year.  Thank you Wyatt, for saving us all!

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Is releaf the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The Human Genome Project was launched in 1990 with the goal of sequencing the human genome within fifteen years.  The ultimate goal, however, was to try and understand the way the human body functions.  In theory, if we could identify certain genes and what they were responsible for we could more accurately fix issues, such as genetic disorders, when things went haywire in the body as they often do.  The project was declared complete in 2003 with 95% of the genome sequenced, although active research is still on-going in many cases.

By all accounts the Human Genome Project, the largest collaborative science project in human history, was a great success. As a result of this massive global undertaking over 30,000 genes were successfully identified, providing scientists and doctors with vital information in our fight against cancer and other diseases.

As great as the Human Genome Project was the time has finally come to embark on a new journey.  On a far greater challenge.  Not content with merely sequencing the genome scientists now want to venture further out into unchartered territory by actually writing an entire synthetic human genome as part of an initiative known as HGP-Write.

The scientists involved in the project aren’t even sure if this will be possible but if it is the possibilities would be mind-boggling, from animal free drug testing to parent-less babies designed to exact specifications.

According to the New York Times, “It might be possible to make organisms resistant to all viruses, for instance, or make pig organs suitable for transplant into people.”

And as Wired puts it, “One major scientific benefit could be the creation of living cell lines for pharmaceutical testing. Whole-genome synthesis would also bring down the cost of gene editing. CRISPR allows individual edits to DNA, but producing a full genome would allow thousands of edits in one go.”

Woah! Thousands of edits in one go?!?!  If CRISPR, with its individual edits, is getting hailed as a world-changing technology, can you imagine the hype that HGP-Write will get once people realize what it can do?  If that day comes it’ll likely come ten years from now when the $1 billion project is expected to be completed after synthesizing the complete three billion base pair human genome.  I for one, can’t wait to see how this project unfolds.  Pun intended.

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Is HGP-Write the Greatest Idea Ever?

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