Posts Tagged ‘Technology’

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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To be honest I’m not a big fan of tattoos.  I can appreciate the artistic aesthetic they provide but I have no interest in dating someone who has them and no desire to get one myself.  I don’t even like Henna, face painting, or getting my hand stamped at a bar.  However, all that may be about to change thanks to Everence, better known as DNA tattoos.

As the New York Times puts it, “It is about as biologically intimate as one can get. Everence is a powdery substance synthesized from a sample of DNA, something as simple as a few thousand cells from a swab of a person’s inner cheek, or from cremated ashes. A small vial of Everence can be brought to a tattoo artist and added to any type of inks.  The result: A tattoo imbued with the DNA of another human being — or, if you prefer, a dog, cat or other furry friend.”

Some people may find this concept a little bit creepy and there’s really no denying the weirdness that surrounds it, but at the same time, the idea has a lot of merit.  For instance, just look at the mental health benefits for those mourning the loss of a loved one.  Every time they look at the tattoo they’ll be reminded of the person they loved and they’ll be comforted by the fact that they’ll always have a piece of their dearly departed with them.  It would also make for a powerful gesture for those in active relationships.  Instead of just getting standard run of the mill matching tattoos, couples could now get tattoos imbued with each other’s DNA.

But that’s not the only tattoo related breakthrough making headlines.  In fact, there’s one even crazier.  The idea of using tattoos as living computers.

According to Inverse, “In a research paper published in Advanced Materials, Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have figured out a way to 3D-print specially designed cells into flat designs, like the tattoo above, and into 3D structures. It’s a technique they believe could possibly be used to create a ‘living computer,’ or a structure made up of living cells that can do the stuff your laptop can.”

How exactly would this process work though?!?

“Instead of the plastics or nylon usually used for 3D printing, the team used modified bacteria that are able to withstand the process of being squeezed out of a nozzle. Some of the cells were programmed with the ability to send signals to other cells, so that the entire 3D-printed design can respond as one when it comes into contact with certain chemicals.”

These biological tattoo computers might then be used to produce drugs and deliver them to a targeted part of the body.  Or perhaps one they could enable us to communicate with one another or give us access to secure areas just like how our modern devices do.  Just in a much cooler way.

Either way it’s becoming increasingly clear that I just might need to rethink my stance on tattoos.  Between Everence, biological tattoo computers, health monitoring tattoos, and hidden underskin tattoos, there may be no escaping them.  And that could be a good thing.

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Is Everence 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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People who are familiar with the CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing technique are aware of its truly transformative ability to change the world.  Capable of ending hunger and curing all diseases (including cancer and AIDS) it has a chance to be the most important scientific discovery of all-time.  In fact, as scientists and researchers continue to play around with this nascent technology it’s becoming clear that we have barely just scratched the surface of what it can do.  As witnessed by its newfound ability to act as an antibiotic.

A few years ago, when researchers from my alma mater Northeastern University discovered a new antibiotic in soil, it was the first new antibiotic discovered in more than thirty years.  This was a historically important discovery that is likely to be downright pivotal in our on-going fight against drug resistant super bugs. That’s because super bugs have evolved to fight and even become resistant to most antibiotics thanks to our misguided insistence that we should wipe out all of our gut bacteria in one fell swoop every time we are sick.  As it turns out though not all gut bacteria is bad.  Some of it lives symbiotically with us and plays a vital role in maintaining our health.  Using an antibiotic as a proverbial sledgehammer to destroy everything in its path is counterproductive.  The correct approach is a targeted one that would eliminate only the bad bacteria.  Thanks to CRISPR-CAS-9 that may now be on the verge of happening.

As Futurism explains, it may soon be possible to provide patients with a CRISPR pill that could target specific bacterium such as Clostridium difficile which can kill 15,000 people per year:

“Jan-Peter van Pijkeren, a food scientist from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is creating a probiotic cocktail that patients can swallow as a liquid or pill.  The cocktail of bacteria will include a bacteriophage – a virus that infects bacteria – capable of carrying a customized, false, CRISPR message to C. difficile. This message would cause C. difficile to make lethal cuts to its own DNA.”

Instructing bacterium to kill themselves on purpose?  That’s straight up savagery.  And it could very well be the future of medicine.  A future in which we deliver drugs to specific parts of our body using gene editing techniques as part of complex personalized healthcare plans that our doctors specifically design for us.  With this approach you won’t need a sledgehammer to get the desired results.  Just a pair of scissors.

Considering the already limitless potential of the CRISPR-CAS-9 gene editing technique it’s somewhat surprising to find yet another novel use for it.  Which begs the question: what else can it be used for?!?!

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Is a CRISPR pill 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 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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Virtual Reality gets all of the buzz and attention but in actuality it’s probably going to be Augmented Reality (digital information overlayed onto the real world) that will wind up affecting our daily lives more.  But that’s a story for another day.  For today, I want to talk about something else.  Something far more interesting than turn by turn directions and Wikipedia entries that pop up in your peripheral version.  Allow me to introduce to you Augmented Eternity, a useful albeit somewhat creepy way to communicate with those that we just lost.

Currently being pioneered by Dr. Hossein Rahnana of the M.I.T. Media Lab, Augmented Eternity is a way for us to talk to people from beyond the grave, thanks to the ability of a chat bot to analyze their digital footprint and realistically mimic the nuances of their speech as well as their distinct patterns of thought.

Now, here’s where things get interesting.  In addition to letting us speak to our friends and relatives who just recently passed like we saw on an episode of Black Mirror, this technology could also be used to allow us to speak to the luminaries we lost long ago.

Imagine if you will, being able to summon Steve Jobs for tech advice or Albert Einstein for help with a physics question.  Eventually we could get to the point where the thoughts and though processes of our best minds and greatest leaders get saved for use by future generations.

Accord to Quartz, “Rahnama’s vision for augmented eternity’s educational application focuses on ‘swappable identities,’ where the same question can be addressed to AI personas with drastically different backgrounds. Being able to directly speak to different primary sources on historical issues could be an invaluable, perspective-enhancing tool for students. ‘The future is about being able to switch your lens and see the world from someone else’s view,’ he says. ‘Issues such as gun control, liberalism, genetic cloning, and legal disputes can all be seen from different political, scientific, academic, and statistical angles.'”

Obviously it’s going to be harder to replicate the personality of someone from a generation ago since we don’t have much in the way of usable data to analyze for them.  But modern celebrities with all of their tweets, Facebook posts, emails, and texts would have a treasure trove of information for the AI to cull through.

Suddenly, my 1,000 blog posts don’t seem like such a waste of time anymore.  Maybe in the future students will be chatting with me about ideas, inventions, and innovation.  In a way, this means that our impact on the world is no longer going to be bound by the constraints of our physical bodies.  For some of us, this may mean that we now have a way to live forever.

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In the future you may be able to chat with Albert Einstein directly.


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