Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

We can harness the power of electricity and magnetism but there’s still one underlying fundamental force that we can’t yet control: gravity.  Which is a shame because as it turns out gravity may be the key to curing cancer.

According to Futurism:

“A team of doctors has a new idea in the fight against cancer: ship tumors up into space.

That’s based on a recent finding that most cancer cells subjected to microgravity in a lab died off without any other treatment, according to ABC News. Now the team of doctors from Australia’s University of Technology Sydney wants to send samples up to the International Space Station to further test the bizarre idea.

The team suspects that the cancer cells died off because microgravity disrupts their ability to communicate among each other or detect their surroundings.

‘When we’re in space, what happens to the body is that your cells start to feel this condition which we call mechanical unloading,’ Joshua Chou, the lead doctor behind the project, told ABC. ‘It means that there’s a lack of force because there’s no gravity. This actually affects how the cells move, how they function and also dictate their survivability.’”

To date we’ve tried everything we can think of to combat cancer from bombarding cells with radiation to forcefully removing tumors from the body.  We’ve even tried reprogramming cells. There has yet to be a miracle cure that destroys all cancerous cells.  But all that may be about to change thanks to a new approach that is literally out of this world.

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Is curing cancer in space the Greatest Idea Ever?

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The CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing technique is one of the most revolutionary technologies out there.  We already knew about its potential to cure diseases but as time goes on more and more uses are being discovered for it.  Such as its ability to also genetically modify food crops.  And now it’s ability to be used as a diagnostic tool.

As The Verge puts it, “A new biotech company co-founded by CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna [Mammoth Biosciences] is developing a device that uses CRISPR to detect all kinds of diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and Zika. The tech is still just in prototype phase, but research in the field is showing promising results. These CRISPR-based diagnostic tools have the potential to revolutionize how we test for diseases in the hospital, or even at home.”

But, wait.  There’s more!

“The same technology could be used in agriculture, to determine what’s making animals sick or what sorts of microbes are found in soil, or even in the oil and gas industry, to detect corrosive microbes in pipelines…”

Proving that once again, CRISPR is full of surprises.

So how exactly dose this amazing new technology work?

According to Futurism:

“ The user first places a sample on the kit’s credit-card-sized piece of paper. This sample could be urine, blood, or saliva (which one will likely depend on what is needed for the particular test). Then, a CRISPR protein and its RNA guide search that sample for specific sequences of DNA or RNA. These sequences could be indicative for diseases such as malaria and Zika; a single test could look for multiple diseases.

If one of those sequences turns up, the CRISPR system snips it. It also snips what Mammoth calls a ‘reporter molecule,’ which produces a color that’s visible to the naked eye. Take a photo of your piece of paper, and the smartphone app will tell you what CRISPR turned up in your sample.”

It really is that easy.  Perhaps eventually we’d even get to the point where we don’t have to go to the doctor at all.  CRISPR to the rescue once again.

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Is an at-home CRISPR kit the Greatest Idea Ever?


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Nikola Tesla was on to something.  Electricity really is awesome.  It allows use to see after the sun goes down.  It allows us to refrigerator food, thereby preventing it from spoiling.  It allows us to cool our homes and live in warm weather climates.  It allows us to recharge our cell phones, those pocket sized devices that we just can’t live without.  It does all that and so much more.  And soon it’ll do one more thing for us: end world hunger.

According to Quartz:

“A team of researchers in Finland has successfully created food using electricity.

Well, calling it food is a bit of a stretch at this point—but it’s a start. By mixing three ingredients into a coffee-cup-sized bioreactor and supplying an electric shock, they zapped a powder into being that’s around 50% protein and 25% carbohydrates, with the rest being fat and nucleic acid.

This early-stage research could pave a path toward a solution to cheaply feed hungry populations without massive land use. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people in the world—that’s one in nine—suffer from chronic undernourishment.  And it’s not just human mouths it can help feed: ‘Along with food, the researchers are developing the protein to be used as animal feed,’ says a press release on the study…”

Considering how quickly the human population is growing and how quickly climate change is devastating land that could have been used to grow food, this innovation could be a real game-changer.  With it we won’t need large swaths of land to grow crops or raise cattle.  In addition to law grown meat we could artificially create food with electricity and ensure that everyone is always fed.  Every beauty pageant contestant who wanted to end world hunger just got their wish.

This innovation could also have far reaching implications for space travel or colonizing other planets.  You wouldn’t need to carry around a lot of equipment to cook.  All you’d need is some powder and an electric charge.  It would also make it a lot easier to cook down here on Earth.  You wouldn’t need any fancy ingredients.  There wouldn’t be any complicated instructions to follow.  Even I could zap food into existence.  When I make toast it basically looks like it got struck by lightning anyway.  I’d be right at home creating food from electricity.  Every guy would.  It’s basically a cooler version of a microwave.

Nikola Tesla was right to marvel at the awesome power of electricity.  Now that it’s set its sights on creating food, world hunger doesn’t stand a chance.  Is there anything it can’t do?

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Is using electricity to create food the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I’m currently reading a riveting book about the history of innovation.  In How We Got To Now, author Steven Johnson traces the trajectory of six innovations that shaped the modern world.  What Johnson is particularly focused on in this book is the so-called Hummingbird Effect; how seemingly unrelated events are actually connected, such as the way that the Hummingbird evolved its unique ability to hover in place as a response to the way that the flower had evolved to attract pollinators.

One of the examples that Johnson gives is of the Gutenberg Press, the world’s first printing press.  This invention obviously had a huge impact on the world as access to information increased and literacy rates improved.  But it also had unintended consequences such as the spread of heretic ideas that undermined the authority of the church.  But that’s not all it did.  As a perfect example of the Hummingbird effect the printing press also impacted several other innovations that would have been impossible to predict at the time.  For instance, since people were starting to read more they realized that they were really farsighted.  This lead to an increased interest in correcting vision, which lead to an increased interest in lenses, which lead to the invention of the microscope and the telescope, which lead to advances in healthcare and physics.  If the printing press had never been invented we might not know what a cell was or that there are planets surrounding other stars.

Other inventions had similar long-term effects.  Shipping ice from Boston to the Caribbean to make ice cream and cool drinks created a global luxury market for ice which led to people taking an interest in cooling techniques.  This ultimately lead to refrigerators, which then lead to air conditioners, which led to the greatest mass migration the world has ever seen as warmer climes could now be settled, which led to a dramatic shift in the balance of power in U.S. politics with the Democrats losing control of Congress as population centers migrated South.  Political reverberations that are still being felt today.

The accidental discovery of glass, stumbled upon in the Sahara desert, had a far greater impact.  At first, the transparency of glass is what appealed to people as it became a key fixture in jewelry.  But later on mankind would start to tinker with some of its other properties, such as its strength and its ability to bend light, using it to make wine glasses and then beautiful stain glass windows.  Eventually it would make its way into eyewear and ultimately mirrors and that’s where things would get really interesting.

For the first time in human history people could actually see what they looked like, instead of forming a rough picture based off of seeing their reflection in a pond.  This fundamentally altered the way they saw the world.  Instead of relying on institutions such as their families or the church for guidance, they would instead start to rely more on themselves, even caring more about their possessions and their social status.  Not so coincidentally, it was around this time that there was also a rise in the number of self-portraits as artists took more of an interest in the proverbial selfie of the day.  This fundamental change just so happened to coincide with the Renaissance and while it would be foolish to say that the Renaissance was caused by the discovery of glass and the advent of the mirror, it is worth mentioning, at least, as a possible contributing factor, especially when you consider that the Renaissance was fueled in part by artists competing for recognition and commissions from the wealthy Medici.

This idea that the mirror could change the way people saw the world, and that in turn, could lead to the Renaissance is completely mind-blowing to me.  I’ve always just kind of taken our way of life, the modern human condition, for granted.  I’ve never thought philosophically about the way that I see the world; that perhaps there could be another entirely different perspective that one could take.  I never once considered that a new technology might be able to profoundly change my worldview.

Sure, there are plenty of people claiming that we are, in fact, currently undergoing a transformation in the way we see the world, for better or for worse, thanks to our reliance on computers.  On the one hand these machines may be making us dumber as we outsource our memories to them.  On the other hand they could be changing our understanding of the world around us as we start to equate naturally occurring phenomenon with programming the way that the invention of watches led to some imagining natural systems as a series of cogs and wheels. But, while both of those perspectives are true, it’s hard for me to imagine that computers are fundamentally impacting the way I see the world or that they could lead to another Renaissance.  Computers may be making us dumber but they also could be making us smarter, augmenting our performance and improving it bit by bit.  Either way, they’re not really altering our sense of self the way that the mirror did.  But there is a new discovery that might.  A breakthrough in our understanding of the human mind and how it works that could change everything.  A revelation that could lead to a heightened sense of self, unlike anything ever seen before in human history.

That bold claim is based on the working theory that consciousness has various levels of intensity.  You might want to imagine these levels on a baseline of 1-10 with one representing somebody in a coma and ten representing someone fighting in the Octagon with their fight or flight response in full swing.  But now we’ve come to find out that there’s a higher level of consciousness that’s off the charts.

According to I Fucking Love Science:

“One way in which neuroscientists measure consciousness is to look at something called neural signal diversity. This assesses how complex a brain’s activity is at any given time and provides a mathematical index of the level of consciousness. For example, a waking brain has more diverse neural activity than a sleeping one, which means it has a higher state of consciousness.

When the researchers from the University of Sussex and Imperial College, London, looked at the neural signal diversity of volunteers given one of the three different psychedelic drugs, they found something surprising. The brain signal diversity was higher in those who had taken the drugs compared to a baseline of someone who is simply awake and aware, suggesting that they have a heightened sense of consciousness.”

Taping into this higher state of consciousness for the first time could have the same transformative psychological impact of looking in the mirror for the first time.  You’d suddenly realize that you have infinitely more potential than you had ever imagined.  Your perspective on life would instantly change as you begin to wonder what you could do with heightened senses, with better reflexes, with more situational awareness.  Your mind would race as you contemplate how much smarter you’ve become and if you’ve gained any new abilities.  And what about society as a whole?  If everyone was operating at this higher state of consciousness would it usher in a new era of creativity, a new Renaissance?  What innovations will this Great Awareness lead to?  What sort of Hummingbird Effects would it have?

The great thing about innovation is that it’s impossible to answer these questions from our present day perspective.  Johannes Gutenberg had no idea that the printing press would lead to the discovery of the cell.  The first person to stumble across glass in the desert could never have fathomed that it would one day be used as a mirror and lead to the Renaissance.  When Thomas Edison invented the phonograph he first thought it would be used to send messages from one person to another.  When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone he first thought it would be used so that a musician on one end could perform for someone listening on the other end.  They had no idea that the use cases for their inventions would wind up getting switched with the telephone getting used to communicate and the phonograph becoming a music player.

When it comes to innovation, it’s not always necessary to know where you’re going to wind up.  The only thing that truly matters is knowing when to start.  Knowing when the next revolution is about to begin. And I believe that our discovery of a higher state of consciousness is one of those key moments in history.  A pivotal moment that could change everything, even if we don’t yet realize how.

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Is a higher state of consciousness within our reach?

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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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The other day I saw a video of a color blind kid who got to see colors for the first time thanks to a pair of special glasses.  It was a touching and heartfelt moment as the boy realized what he had been missing out on his entire life.  And it got me thinking.  What if I was in a similar circumstance to that boy?  What if I was the one who could suddenly see images that had been kept from me for my whole life?  How incredible would that be?  And what if that’s what was really happening?  What if the world as we know it isn’t really the way that the world is?!

Well, just a few days later it would seem as though I’m about to get my wish thanks to a breakthrough that could allow people to see additional colors and shades of colors that we didn’t even know existed!  What the what!!?

According to I Fucking Love Science, “Tetrachromacy is considered a rare condition in humans, which allows those with it to distinguish and see hundreds of shades of colors that, to the rest of us, simply look the same. But now researchers may have developed a special pair of glasses that will allow those without tetrachromacy to have a glimpse at what it is like to see the extra colors.

Reported in New Scientist, the special kit has been designed by a team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and could be used to aid those looking to counteract camouflage, or even to spot counterfeit bank notes. It can allow the wearer to distinguish between two shades of color that initially look identical but are actually subtlety different, known as metamers.”

It’s said that Tetrachromats can see ten colors in the rainbow and over 100 million colors in total.  So I wonder just how many colors the glasses would enable you to see? I also wonder if these glasses will have additional uses aside from the military and financial applications listed above?  Could you build the technology into an Augmented Reality app?  Could artists or photographers use them to create works of art that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to create?  Could magazines include these glasses as free inserts in their publications to unlock additional hidden content?  And what about fashion designers?  What could they do with this technology?

I don’t know.  All I know is that I can’t wait to try them.

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If you could see extra colors would you want to?

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